Well, this past week, I popped my proverbial UEFA Champions League cherry, thanks to the appearance of a couple of group-stage matches televised on ESPN2. The European Champions League is one of the most exciting events in football today, pitting top teams from every league in Europe. Once the Loko Plovdiv's and the HK's are eliminated (usually pretty easily by one of the more powerhouse squads), we could be seeing matches like Liverpool vs. Bayern Munich, Chelsea vs. Real Madrid, etc.
I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Benfica, the scrappy Portugese squad vs. Man U. One of the few bright spots for Man U, aside from the goal by Scholes in the early going, is the skillful play of Portugese midfielder Cristiano Ronaldo. This guy has some serious skills-to-pay-the-bills, and, in a Roy Keane-less era (good luck landing the Keane-ster, Toffees), may be the best hope Man United has of establishing anything in Europe or the premiership. After sloppy play in the first part of the first half, Benfica settled down and scored two absolutely phenominal goals, to come away with a hard-fought 2-1 win. This gives Benfica a spot in the elimination round, and quashes Man U's hopes of playing in any more European competition.
The other game televised for us stupid Americans was Chelsea vs. Liverpool, in which both sides, already locks for the elimination round, tried their best not to lose and neither ended up winning. In other words, I was treated to a boring 0-0 tie.
In lieu of the Chelsea-Liverpool snoozer, I wish they had shown Rangers v. Internazionale. Rangers showed plenty of guts and came away with a 1-1 draw, and a berth in the elimination round. They are the first Scottish League team to do so in recent years. Bravo Rangers! They may be the team to watch in the UEFA Champions League in the coming years.
Crouch the Tiger
I also watched the Liverpool vs. Wigan match this week. Wigan is just now starting to taste the harsh realities of playing in the EPL. Decimated with injuries, it is clear Paul Jewell's squad lacks the depth to make a serious run at the EPL title. However, their first-half record might actually give them a spot in European competition next year. Regardless, the star of this match was Liverpool's embattled big man, Peter Crouch. Since joining Liverpool from Southampton last year, Crouch's performance on the Liverpool pitch has been certainly lacking. The big guy was often a few steps behind truly breaking out and establishing himself at New Anfield. The pundits have really been lofting harsh criticisms at Crouch lately, which is funny, because Crouch lofted two goals past Wigan's backup keeper to earn man-of-the-match honors. It was great to finally see the big fella have his breakout game as a Liverpool Red. Hopefully, this is the sign of things to come. Who knows, maybe if the Reds get rid of the inconsistent Djibril Cisse, I may even admit I LIKE Liverpool. Nonetheless, I'll have to admit I'm a Peter Crouch fan.
-Christopher J. Brigham
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