Monday, February 19, 2007


It’s been a bit of a crazy football day today, gossip-wise, as there are stories floating around that Zinedine Zidane is coming to the MLS to join either the Chicago Fire or the New York Red Bulls (I’ll believe it when I see it) and a separate tale being floated that Fabio Capello is about to resign as chief of Real Madrid. (I’ll believe that when I see it as well, but I believe I will see it in a day or so.) I will address each of these rumors if and when they come true, but right now I am more interested in fact, and right now there is one fact that is more important than any other: the Champion’s League starts again tomorrow!

I believe the Champion’s league is the most fun yearly sporting event in the world. It is a year long tournament featuring the various “champions” of European football. I use the quote-marks around the word “champions” because the tournament actually features top finishers from all of the various leagues, including winners and various levels of runners-up. In the case of smaller leagues, like the leagues in Portugal, Greece, or Holland, only one or two top teams are invited to the league. In the case of the big guys like England and Italy, four teams are invited. Thus, not everyone in the competition is really a champion, but the tournament is unquestionably a chance to see the best teams in the world compete.

The tournament works like this: in the fall, 32 teams are split into eight groups of four, and they play a round-robin mini-tournament with the top two teams of each group advancing. Then, after the New Year, the 16 remaining teams play home and away matches against each other until there are two left, and those two play for the big trophy in May. The second half of the tournament starts tomorrow and goes on Wednesday. Then in two weeks, those same two teams play again, but this time at the other team’s stadium. Then we will be down to eight teams, and the beat will go on.

So we should see some great football over the next few days, and my next few columns will be discussing the Champion’s league. But here are some questions to think about as play is beginning:

Will England continue to dominate? So far, all four of England’s teams are still in the tourney and looking strong. Could we see an all-England final? Do we even want to? If we do, will this prove that the Premiership is the strongest league?

How will Real Madrid and Lyon do? As readers of this page know, Real has basically stunk all season, regardless of what their record says; now we will see how they do in against Bayern Munich. Meanwhile Lyon has hit a few speed bumps as of late; while they be able to advance to the next round?

Will we care about phony-baloney, media-invented storylines? How will Jose Mourinho do against his old club, Porto? How will Celtic do against Milan, even though Milan almost had its home game taken away? Most importantly, who cares?

Finally, will the Liverpool-Barca clash live up to the hype? This round features a big clash between the champions of the last two years, Liverpool and Barca. Everyone is hoping we have a classic, but some people are quietly expecting a Barca blowout. Will Stephen Gerrard have anything to say about it?

More to come…

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