Thanks for an online course I once did on sports writing, I’ve cultivated the (extremely useful) habit of jotting down important moments during a football match. It goes like this:
4′ – Arsenal score! Great cross along ground frm right by Walcott, Giroud scores. Wenger doesn’t celebrate.
6′ – Kroos long range shot, saved.
10′ – Bayern corner. Gustavo goes close, but strike goes over. Too high?
And so on. But on Tuesday, March 12, when Barcelona hosted AC Milan during the second leg of their Round of 16 Champions League match, I could barely take my eyes off the screen to jot down the important passages of play. There were just too many of them. That first half performance, which yielded Barca 2 goals, has been called arguably their greatest display in recent years — and that’s saying a lot, considering they’ve played in Champions League finals, semifinals and innumerable El Classicos during this period.
All Milan had to do was score once and Barca would have needed four goals to ensure qualification to the quarterfinals. Four. (Milan had won the first leg 2-0.) But the lone goal never came, and I gotta say it’s an absolute privilege we’re getting to watch this glorious team at its peak. (They can still cut out on the diving, though.)
That first-half display reminded me of another extraordinary first-half, by Milan against Liverpool during the 2005 Champions League final. Paolo Maldini had scored — his first goal in I don’t know who many seasons — in the 3rd minute, and Hernan Crespo had picked up a brace before the half-time whistle. When the players trooped off at half-time, Ricky Kaka had run Liverpool absolutely ragged from the middle of the pitch. It was of this performance that the great Brian Glanville wrote, “Milan had a great first-half. A half, but what a half!”
Liverpool fought back to eventually win the final, but that first-half remains one of the best displays of Carlo Ancelotti’s great Milan side of the early and mid 2000s.
I wrote on the same theme, along with another of this week’s Round of 16 tie, for my piece on the IBN blog. The other match saw Arsenal beat Bayern Munich in their own backyard, with a performance that left you shaking your fists furiously at the television screen, wondering aloud where all this guts and gumption had gone during their first leg, which Arsenal had lost 1-3. Wenger’s boys (and they’re still boys) won 2-0 on the night, but were eliminated on aggregate. What a waste.