The Year of Italia (and Herbert Fandel)

Congratulations to Milan on their 7th European victory. The Champions League and World Cup trophies now belong to the Azzurri and Milan; and Pirlo, Gattuso, Nesta, Gilardino, Oddo and Inzaghi can now claim to be champions of the world and Europe. While Liverpool seemed to dominate control of the match, Milan did what counted. Put goals in the back of the net. In the process, they got their Istanbul revenge and we can all hope for a conclusion to the best-of-three series next year in Moscow (see you there). As for Fandel, he deserves to have his refereeing career ended. The ridiculous yellow on Mascherano 30 seconds after the foul was ludicrous, calling every high ball a foul on Liverpool was atrocious and stopping the game 20 seconds early when another minute should have been added on was horrible decision making. I'll stop short of saying Fandel handed Milan the game, but they were playing with 11.5 men.

Inzaghi did what Inzaghi does; beat offside traps, get in the right place at the right time, score big goals in big games and be an all-around cheat and scumbag. I will personally wave the flag for any member of the Azzurri squad from Germany except for Inzaghi, and that includes Massimo Oddo and Angelo Peruzzi (both of whom played for Lazio at the time). It wasn't The Upper Arm of God but the blatant time delay with 5 minutes left when he took a ball to the chest. He didn't go down right away, he waited until he realized he could milk a minute or so off the clock. Remember, this is the same Inzaghi who scored a difficult goal against the Czechs when Simone Barone had an entire empty net in front of him but Pippo took it himself. This was when advancement to the round of 16 was not guaranteed and that goal could have proved decisive. Rumored afterwards was a berating at the hands of Lippi and other squad members in the locker room for his typically selfish play. It wasn't a coincidence that he did not appear again in the tournament.

As for the rest of Milan, a grand congratulations. They had to go through Celtic, Bayern, ManU and Liverpool to win. Which means they are probably champions of the UK as well as Europe (Shut up, Mourinho). Nesta proved himself as one of a handful of contenders for best defender on the planet. He is simply an exquisite tackler with a great sense for the ball. Maldini is not human, I fear the fact that his genes currently lie in the Milan youth squad. Kaka is brilliant and probably deserves the Ballon d'Or (Totti should be on the short list). Pirlo just seems to show up out of nowhere and provide a deft pass and Gattuso was his usual purring kitten. Oh, and Seedorf and Ambrosini were said to be found in the locker playing cards during most of the game.

Liverpool. Oh, Liverpool. They were the better team over the full 90 but their problems are simple. Zenden was horrible and will get worse, he needs to be shown the door. Crouch came on 25 minutes too late. Gerrard needs to play in a deeper role to create from the midfield and head the attack. Pennant needs to work on his crosses. A LOT. If Harry Kewell stays healthy and has a full preseason he is a world-beater. There is not a left wing on the market that can provide the speed, trickery and deft passing that Kewell can. But he needs games to get into form. The back four were exhausted, but performed well and should remain next year. One major change has to be made next year. Dirk Kuijt cannot, absolutely cannot, be a main striker. He runs for 90 minutes like a chicken with his head cut off but provides absolutely nothing. There is a difference between workrate and talent. Dirk has the former. Liverpool needs the latter. Either play him as a supporting striker or bench him. It's not a choice.

Other observations from the game:

a. Apparently Kuijt has slept with Fandel's wife or something because it appeared Herbie had a personal vendetta against Dirk.

b. Who knew Rafa Benitez would shoulder a large part of the blame for the loss? Zenden starting and not having Crouch and Kewell on the field were huge mistake.

c. The celebration belongs on the field. It was painful to watch Maldini try to make it up those steps with whatever he has left in his knees.

d. Javier Mascherano is 22 years old and will soon be recognized as the best holding midfielder in the world. It was fascinating to watch two premier defensive midfielders go head-to-head in Mascherano and Gattuso. One more precision and skill, the other more passion and determination. And I don't buy for a single second that Ferguson turned down the chance to sign Javier last summer.

e. It's time for Liverpool to break the bank for a world class striker or two.

f. My heart rate hit 132 at its peak sitting down. Normally my sitting heart rate is in the mid-to-high 50's. I need the summer break to come ASAP. I won't survive another big game.

g. The Athens stadium is absolutely gorgeous. It deserves to have the Champions League final on a regular basis along with Porto.

h. Massimo Ambrosini was seen during the line up pre-game, then wasn't seen again until he collected his winner's medal. He really poached that medal.

i. When Paolo Maldini dies, his body should be bronzed and placed on a marble stand at the sideline of the San Siro. It's hard to find an athlete to respect more.

Congrats again to Milan. I hope the two meet again in Moscow next year. Because in the 2009 the final is at the Stadio Olimpico. The Gladiators will defend their turf victoriously.

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