Milan Find the Tables Turned on Them

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.

The link:

http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64413/champions-league-harsh-lessons-for-ac-milan-arsenal.html

Pick a Number.

Preparing for the GRE when you’ve been out of the loop for 10 years in mathematics is enough to make a grown man wince. At 27, I wince every day nowadays.

What on earth is the connection between journalism (the normal see stuff, observe stuff, reflect stuff, write stuff genre and not the astrophysics and gene mutation genre) and mathematics? Mathematics? As Thompson would ask, what in the name of crippled, half-mad jesus are they trying to pull?!

“That’s it,” I told my mom a couple of days ago. “Im not giving the GRE. What’s the connection between journalism and maths? It makes no sense”. I threw my mobile down and sat on the cot.

My mom is a chemistry major — no, wait — but she’s also my mom, so she understood. However, I’ve been banging my head against maths for a month now and she said I might as well give it a go.

So Im gonna give it a go, one-hard-spank-in-the-ass and that’s it.

In other news, here are two other articles I managed to push through for IBNlive.in.com. I had to blank it in one of the intervening weeks due to the ridiculous power outages in Tamil Nadu, thanks to dear old lady J. As Dame M would say, “you got a bloody cheek”. She can say that.

1) http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64098/serie-a-capricious-milan-roll-over-mighty-juve.html

That went up today, and it was a fantastic match. Milan had looked lost as recently as two weeks ago, but they’ve started showing encouraging signs since the 2-2 draw with Napoli on Nov 17. Ricardo Montolivo has finally been handed the opportunity to play for a big club and he’s come of age this season, emerging as one of the real leaders of a still-evolving Milan. El Sharaawy, who has 12 goals already this season, didn’t score against Juve but his energy seemed to translate to the entire team. I still can’t believe he had scored only 4 top-flight goals before the start of this season.

2)  http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64080/la-liga-atletico-madrid-gatecrash-realbarca-party.html

This was a tribute to Atletico’s brilliant start to the season, in which they trail Barcelona by just three points. Falcao’s certainly the headboy of this team but they also got some serious talent like Arda Turan, Raul Garcia and Diego Costa. Add to that a coach that doesn’t seem to have a price, they’re certainly on to something.

What I Wrote About When I Was Not Writing

And, we’re back — not that I ever stopped writing.

In the days leading up to my last post on this blog (‘The Power of Rajinikanth’), I wangled a deal, thanks to good friend Sattwik Biswal, to write for the website of CNN-IBN, one of India’s leading English news channels. I’d write on football and tennis, thanks to my record as a sports journalist and experience in covering both sports. I’d have loved to write on cricket too, considering I’ve covered international cricket tournaments, but in India it’s better to be a sportswriter willing to write on cricket and being turned down than the other way around, believe me. There are just too many writing on cricket in India.

Anyway, as luck would have it, Andy Roddick had announced he would retire from the sport when his 2012 US Open campaign came to an end. He lost in the fourth round to Juan Martin Del Potro in four sets,  and on Sept 7, I wrote a tribute on the IBN blog:

http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/63877/andy-roddick-carried-usa-hopes-admirably.html

(They’ve got a fancy banner in the blog with my pic on it, and Im desperately searching for a better pic. Taking a presentable photo of yourself  on your own has to be up there with reviving Mel Gibson’s acting career.)

The piece had come out kind of alrighty, though I told myself later that it had a rushed feel to it and I could’ve done much better in a calmer state of mind.

The following two weeks saw me write on Italian and English Football, both of which impressed the editor.

A write-up on the tribulations of AC Milan this season (Sept 17):

http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/63909/champions-league-ac-milan-in-battle-to-reclaim-lost-glory.html

My latest article, a piece on Arsenal’s unbeaten season to the English Premier League season (Sept 25):

http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/63929/epl-arsenal-start-to-dream.html

Watching the Spanish League at Indian hours, with matches kicking off at 1 am and even later, is inhuman. But Im a night person and making notes while catching the matches means Im seldom passive, and by extension, bored. And the commentary is excellent — restrained and insightful.