Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Champions League: The Knockout Stage Begins

The Invincibles Return!

Yesterday in the first leg of the first knockout stage of the Champion's League, Arsenal paid a visit to Real Madrid. Everyone in the commentariat gave the Gunners the chance of a snow cone in hell. Just like the Olympics, however, once the game began, it refused to stay on that script.

Mired in a disappointing season at home, Arsenal roared at Real Madrid and its Galacticos for all of the 90 plus minutes, looking more like the team that went undefeated two years ago (was it only two years?) and won on the road 1 - 0 (minute by minute). And it wasn't nearly that close. Arsenal easily should have had two more goals. Arseblog has an excellent report on the match. This is the first time an English team has won at the Bernabeu.

Now on the the match itself. For the first time in a long time, both the young players and the veterans played well. Jose Reyes had one of his best days ever in an Arsenal jersey, and Fabregas was masterful in midfield. Thierry Henry was, well, Thierry Henry. Who says he doesn't show up in big games--his game winner was just masterful. A lot of credit should be given to the defense as well, keeping Real out of sorts for most of the game. And finally, it's good to see you again Mr. Ljungberg!

I don't mean to get too carried away here. After all, they have to do this all over again at Highbury in two weeks, but to go to Madrid and notch an away goal and a win does mean something. It makes Arsenal favored to advance. All they have to do is limit Madrid's goals in their house, where they've played better this season than on the road. And, of course, some players will have healed enough to return to the squad.

Now, I'm hoping this lights a bit of a fire in the team that carries them to that all important fourth position in the league, retain Henry, and usher them into Ashburton Grove in style. On to Blackburn!

In other news, Liverpool and Chelsea both lost their opening legs to BEnfica and Barcelona, respectively. I usually pull for the English teams, even though I can't quite muster any support for Chelsea. I do feel bad for Damon though. I'm confident they'll get it done in the second leg.

NP: "Brother's and Sisters" - Blur

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