I'm struggling to find an analogy to explain how a typical Brit might feel about watching an English team in the European Cup final. To be honest I don't really understand it that well myself. I guess it must be something like watching the Olympic team, but a bigger deal. For a real Liverpool fan, like my coworker Rob, however, it's much more like watching your team in the World Series or Superbowl. It's a bit difficult from my perspective to understand the concept of winning or losing in your own league (the English Premiership) and then seperately playing in an equally important tournament (the European Cup). Rob said winning in your league shows better consistency as a team, but winning the European Cup is a bigger deal because the competition is stiffer. Anyway, on to the game
AC Milan scored a goal off a free kick 51 seconds into the match last night, which I gather is something like giving up 6 runs in the first inning of a baseball game. The University Club bar was completely packed well before kickoff, but interestingly it was a more evenly divided crowd than you might expect, given the international composition of the Oxford graduate community. Midway through the first half the ref missed a call against Milan in their own territory which led to a breakaway goal and Rob screaming "You've got to f**king book him for that! Book him!" It felt just like watching a Pats game at Jamie's house. Yet another Milan goal left us at 3-0 at halftime and the attitude was very much the same as it was in Boston before game 4 of the ALCS; people were joking about putting money up for Liverpool. Rob was talking about "going for it, play some football. I'd rather lose 6-nil than just give up," much as Bostonians were talking about "preventing the sweep" and "not letting them celebrate in Fenway."
Starting about ten minutes into the second half were 6 minutes of pretty amazing football. Liverpool scored three unanswered goals (continuing my Sox analogy, no team had ever recovered from a 3 point deficit in Euro Cup history) and everybody was suddenly jumping up and down and high-fiving and hugging each other. Javier, this small 40-ish Spanish guy from the office was yelling his head off and pounding me on the back.
The game stayed knotted 3-3 for the remainder of regulation and through 30 minutes of extra time. This meant that the match would be decided by penalty kicks, which is about the most nerve-wracking invention of any sport I've seen; far worse than sudden-death OT in the NFL. A striker lines up completely alone and just fires a shot at the goalkeeper while the other players stand along the sidelines watching. Evidently the current style for Dudek, the Liverpool goalie, to avoid giving away which direction he'll dive in is for him to jump up and down and wave his arms like a freak.
Milan had first shot (each team gets 5) and Javier said, "First one's over the bar." Dudek started dancing and the Milan striker fired high and wide; the crowd erupted. Liverpool lined up for their first shot and one of Rob's mates said, "Never trust a Brazilian keeper, they're rubbish." Bang, he dove the wrong way and Liverpool was up 1-0 with everyone in the bar screaming like crazy. Dudek saved the next shot and Liverpool made another. 2-0 now which meant Liverpool only needed one more to save themselves from losing in this round.
Milan scored and then their keeper saved a shot, leaving it 2-1 Liverpool after 3 shots apiece. Dudek made another save on the next shot meaning that Liverpool needed to hit either of their final two to clinch the greatest comeback in Euro Cup history. Let me pause briefly to say that as somebody who had never watched 125 minutes of consecutive soccer in his life I was hanging on the edge of my seat along with everybody else. Liverpool shot and scored, and the bar went crazy. Strangers hugging each other, high fives all around and it felt just like Boston in October. The papers have been saying it's the greatest comeback in Euro Cup history, and that people will be talking about it in 30 years. I've been lucky lately in that respect...
A couple other observations made while watching the game:
- It must be an international constant that any time an officiating decision goes the wrong way all the fans for the offended team start screaming about conspiracies. Must suck to be a ref (or umpire).
- The uniforms for British football teams consist of a tiny patch with the team's symbol and then a massive sponsor's logo. Liverpool has "Carlsberg" emlazoned massively across their shrits. This means that the sponsors not only get their branding at the events, but that people all over the UK wear team gear that is basically an advertisement for Vodafone or Carlsberg or whatever.
- I found it easy to curse out the Milan striker with two goals because his name is Hernan Crespo and I find that "Crespo sucks" really rolls of my tongue.