I’ve had this anxious feeling for over a week, and until this past Saturday I couldn’t quite figure out what was bringing it on. But as last Saturday morning arrived, and I prepared for my Back Sports Page radio program “From The Touchline For 90 Minutes”, it all came clear. I’m feeling the sensation football fans everywhere are experiencing—a two month eclipse of world soccer. If you can’t find something you like in the next two months in this game, then maybe weaving should be your next hobby.
From Manchester City winning the Premier League title on the final day of the season, to the World Cup final, and everything in between. We have the best club teams, the top international teams, and the worlds’ greatest players vying for an array of silverware all over the globe. Atletico Madrid winning it’s first Spanish La Liga title in 18 years on the final day of the season with a 1-1 draw against Barcelona at the Nou Camp? Yep, that happened. Arsenal’s magnificent FA Cup comeback victory, saving manager Arsene Wenger’s job? Done. A World Cup featuring the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez, and Neymar? On its way.
It all started two weeks ago as Liverpool, who had held the top spot in the Premier League for much of the season, dropped consecutive games to Chelsea and Man City, opening the door for City to win the title on the final day. Needing a win at home to secure their second title in three years, City disposed of West Ham 2-0 and gave first-year manager Manuel Pellegrini his first trophy at the Ethiad. A devastated Liverpool settled for 2nd and, while they return to Champions League football next season, will have to wait to end their 24-year drought as the top team in English Football.
Things really ramped up last Saturday when Atletico Madrid and Barcelona walked out at the Nou Camp at the exact same time Arsenal and Hull City lined up for the FA Cup Final at Wembley. Two of the biggest games this year kicking off simultaneously?? No wonder I had anxiety.
The morning started with Hull City, who hadn’t won a game since April, taking an improbable 2-0 lead in 8 minutes over the highly favored Arsenal, who hadn’t won a trophy in 10 years. While Wenger was watching his future at Arsenal slip from his hands, Atletico and Barca were in the early stages of a match that had enough story lines to fill a Holywood script.
Atletico, looking to become the first team in 10 years to win a La Liga title other than Barca or Real Madrid, found themselves in one of the toughest places to play in the world, needing a draw against one of the best teams this planet has ever seen. Simple enough for a team who hadn’t won a title in 18 years and operates on half the payroll of most big European clubs. Barca, needing a win to secure their 7th title in 10 years, endured a tumultuous year that saw manager Tito Vilanova step away from the team to battle throat cancer just weeks before the season, and eventually sadly pass away just weeks before the game. There were other issues along the way, and even whispers that this was an aging Barca team that needed revamping. Safe to say, Barca had persisted through enough turmoil for one year, and maybe an unlikely La Liga title would make things right. It looked to be heading in that direction when Alexis Sanchez fired them into the lead in the 34th minute on a spectacular near-post volley.
Just 5 minutes later back at Wembley, Arsenal is handed a lifeline in the 38th minute as their resident Spaniard, Santi Cazorla, connects on a world-class set piece bent into the top corner at the far post. Both scores hold into halftime, with Hull City clinging to a 2-1 lead and Barcelona up 1-0, but as the second halves started, you just knew there was plenty of drama ahead in the next 45 minutes.
It didn’t take long for the second half drama to arrive as Atleti’s David Villa smacked the post 45 seconds in before Diego Godin equalized on just 4 minutes, putting Madrid in clear position to defend out the game and win the title. Of course back in London things were heating up as well, as Arsenal had several penalty claims denied by referee Lee Probert before Laurent Koscielny finally equalized for the Gunners on 71 minutes, setting up a fantastic finish. As the game headed into extra time Oliver Giroud hit the crossbar for Arsenal and finally in the 109th minute Aaron Ramsey finished the comeback with a 1-touch strike sending Wembley into pandemonium and Wenger on his way to a contract extension.
Enough for one day?? Not if you include the German Cup Final that kicked off during FA Cup extra time between German giants Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. A replay of the 2013 Champions League final, the teams had exchanged 3-0 victories in Bundesliga play during the year, and as the match headed to extra time, it solidified this Saturday as one of the best days of world football that I could remember. Finally in the 107th minute Arjen Robben scored the decisive game winner before Thomas Mueller added an insurance goal in added time to give manager Pep Guardiola the double in his first year in charge.
A day for the ages and one this writer won’t soon forget. And if it wasn’t enough to look forward to the coming World Cup in Brazil, we have the all-Madrid Champions League final in Lisbon this coming Saturday. Can Atleti snatch a double from the hands of their city rivals who have won more Champions League titles than any other club? Can Cristiano Ronaldo win the first Champions League title for Real since 2002? Will Neymar and Brazil impress on their home turf and win another World Cup? Will Messi, Luis Suarez, or Ronaldo emerge from Brazil as the top player in the world? Will Brazil even finish construction on the stadiums in time??
All questions we can answer when this 2-month soccer eclipse ends. Enjoy.