Scandal-less Soccer Saturday
Today is a big day for soccer / football / futbol. The prestigious UEFA Champions League final, which happens annually, and the anticipated Women’s World Cup opener, which happens quadrennially, are set for today with the latter following the former. There’s interesting storylines to go with both events.
UEFA Champions League
The Champions League final has two European powerhouses that are both vying for the vaunted treble. Barcelona of Spain and Juventus of Italy have both won the top-tier league and tournament of their respective countries, and a Champions League trophy is the rarest jewel of the triple-crown in European soccer.
Barcelona has a prolific trio of forwards led by Lionel Messi, who is arguably the best player in the world and is possibly the best player ever. Barcelona also has Xavi Hernandez, another legendary and life-long Barcelona player, although the celebrated midfielder has announced that he’ll end his playing career in Qatar. So, this game will be his last one with the team that he, along with Andres Iniesta, have led during a decade of dominance.
Juventus is led, in practice and in spirit, by its elder statesmen. Gianluigi (Gigi) Buffon and Andrea Pirlo are several years past their physical primes, but their sageness and skill make them important in goal and in midfield, respectively. Juventus has resurgent forward Carlos Tevez and versatile midfielder Arturo Vidal at the peaks of their careers to complement the young and highly sought midfielder, Paul Pogba.
Forward Luis Suarez, part of Barcelona’s attacking triumvirate, has infamously clashed with two Juventus players. Suarez, then with Liverpool, was suspended for launching racist epithets at defender Patrice Evra, then with Manchester United. In the World Cup last year, the Uruguayan striker was suspended for biting the shoulder of Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini, who unfortunately has been sidelined from this final with a leg injury.
Ideally, Juventus wins 4-2 in a penalty shootout. Pirlo curls his shot (no chip-shot, okay Andrea?) to give Juventus the edge and then Buffon saves a low shot by Neymar to clinch the win. Realistically, Barcelona wins 3-0, though. [Update: Barcelona won, 3-1]
Women’s World Cup
This seventh tournament, being held in Canada, is the first one to have 24 teams instead of 16 teams. The two additional four-team groups will result in 24 additional first-round games. I hope that the stadium attendance is high; more importantly, I hope that the playing field is figuratively and literally level, because the women’s game has a lot more disparity among countries that compete.
The men’s World Cup in Brazil had a couple of blowouts, but the prominent ones involved pre-tournament favorites losing to other powerhouses that had winning strategies. Spain and Brazil didn’t get humiliated by the Netherlands in the opening round and by Germany in the semi-finals, respectively, because of major gaps in resources and talent.