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What a week. What an incredible series of UEFA matches.
On Tuesday and Wednesday this past week I was privileged to witness once again the best of football in three incredible matches that had everything – the good, the bad, the unpredictable, the truly beautiful, the spectacular and much more.
The first match took place in Munich. Arsenal FC defeated Bayern Munich on the hallowed ground of the Allianz Arena. Common, wake me up, it cant be true.
A team that has shown neither class nor style all season, that has given its millions of global supporters more headache and heartache than joy and cheer, went to the home ground of one of the world’s most disciplined and successful teams, a team that hardly ever loses a match on its ground no matter the quality of opposition, and came away with a 2-0 victory even with a very average performance!
It is incredible that although Arsenal FC still did not qualify for the next round despite that victory, their defeat of the great Bayern Munich FC has been a soothing balm of some sort for ‘gunners’ who can’t seem to remember what it feels like to win a silver ware.
The second even more dramatic match took place at the Camp Nou.
FC Barcelona confounded and shut up all doubters like me with a superb display of undiluted attacking football. In 90 minutes they overturned a 2-goals deficit, added two more goals, and made AC Milan FC, their conquerors only two weeks ago at San Siro, look like confused and bungling school boys.
The 4-0 score line beclouded what could also have happened had
AC Milan Striker, M’baye Niang, converted the best chance of the night 10 minutes into the match and 5 minutes after Messi’s first magical goal. The match could have ended differently as Barcelona would have found climbing out of that trough and qualifying for the next stage of the championship too steep and almost impossible. Niang, with only the Barcelona goalkeeper to beat, saw his well-placed, low angled shot hit the upright and bounced back into play.
That for me was the real turning point of that match.
Be that as it may, Niang lost the chance, Barcelona continued their unrelenting onslaught, got a second goal to clear all outstanding deficit and now had the cushion and confidence to create two outstanding additional goals to seal Milan’s fate.
FC Barcelona played an almost perfect game, giving little away, keeping possession of the ball and denying the opposition same, leaving every watcher of that match mesmerized with their endless and seamless passing and movements, and the players of AC Milan in a state of dizziness as they futilely chased balls zipping around them at electrifying speed and accuracy.
So, as the mystique of FC Barcelona’s style of play lives on, the scare created by their recent three losses has disappeared leaving the calabash still unbroken. Confidence has now been restored in the team and the world can sit back again, relax comfortably, and continue to enjoy Tiki Taka - a perfect midfield of five of the best players in the world led by, perhaps, the greatest goal-scorer and football player the world has ever seen.
Then there was a third match.
It also produced its own awesome drama and a disaster.
Pre-match favourites, Schalke FC of Germany did not know what hit them when Galatasary FC came calling from Istanbul. The first match had ended in a 1-1 draw in Istanbul, even in a match that many felt Schalke FC deserved to win.
All they needed was a scoreless draw or any win at home to go on to the quarter-finals. However, when Galatasary FC marched out for the second leg of their match in Gelsenkirchen they came armed with missiles that confounded everyone.
Playing with a fading but very experienced Diedre Drogba as their main striker upfront the Turkish club players ran non-stop for 90 minutes, covering every blade of grass, contesting every ball like wounded lions, got and took their few chances and broke the back of the Germans with a last minute decisive goal.
They came out from that battle bruised but victorious. The final 3-2 score line was a miracle creaed by sheer hardwork and the determination and fighting spirit to win. Fans of Schalke FC are still in a shock wondering what hit them.
NNPC/Shell Cup - A new generation of footballers to emerge.
We always first see many of them at the annual NNPC/Shell Cup All-Nigerian Secondary schools football championship.
Several of the top players in our national teams through the years have surfaced into the limelight somewhere along the circuit of the championship, particularly at the final rounds.
A competition that exposes some 50 to 60 thousand young players in secondary schools all over the country now holds its own as a permanent fixture in the academic and sports calendar of the country.
Next weekend once again all is set for Nigerians (and indeed Africans through television) to witness the emergence of a new generation of Nigerian footballers.
It is the competition that, in the 15 years of its existence, has showcased hundreds of players now playing professionally for different clubs in the domestic leagues, foreign clubs and in the different Nigerian national teams.
The latest addition to the long list of discoveries is Ejike, the diminutive Super Eagles left winger playing for Rangers International FC and a member of the 2013 African Cup of Nations victorious team. Others before him are Mikel Obi, Chinedu Obasi, Victor Nsofor, Ajani Ibrahim, and so on.
All roads, therefore, lead to the Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos next weekend for another feast of the best of tomorrow’s football today.