We’re three weeks away from the world’s largest sporting event dedicated to one sport: the FIFA World Cup. I introduced myself here in January and before we go any further, let me go off topic briefly. My name is Randy Paul, not Rand Paul. My father anglicized his name from Polsky to Paul while living in a small town in southern Georgia (the US one), so there are only three people alive with the surname Paul to whom I’m related: my sister, my half-brother and his son. I have no relatives in Texas or Kentucky.
I’m writing this post for those of you who are not fans of the game, but who are open-minded and willing to give it a shot. Tomorrow afternoon, on your local Fox affiliate, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League championship, a sporting event that last year enjoyed a larger audience than the Super Bowl. Nearly forty teams start out in the initial qualification that, if I recall correctly, has its opening rounds in early August, and with all due credit to Michel Platini, the President of UEFA, we’ll be able to see it for the first time on a Saturday, a refreshing change from having to either take an afternoon off, record it and watch it later or surreptitiously follow it on the internet at work. I also thank Fox for putting it on their main network and not Fox Soccer Channel, thus enabling those who don’t have cable to see it.
The two teams contesting the title are Bayern Munich, the newly crowned German champion and Inter Milan, the Italian champion for the past five seasons including the most recent one. The game will be played at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid. Bayern is coached by the Dutch Louis Van Gaal and Inter is coached by the Portuguese Jose Mourinho, both of whom are either loved or hated, usually depending on how one feels about their team.
Some players to keep an eye on for Inter: Samuel Eto’o, a tireless Cameroonian striker, Lucio, a tough Brazilian central defender who often comes up on the attack and who scored the goal that defeated the US in last year’s Confederations Cup Championship, Maicon, an attack-minded Brazilian right back and Diego Milito, a gifted Argentinean attacker. Inter will be missing Thiago Motta, their central midfielder due to a red card he picked up in the semifinal against Barcelona. For Bayern, key players should be the relentless Croatian forward, Ivica Olic, the tenacious Dutch winger, Arjen Robben and their German winger, Bastian Schweinsteiger. Bayern will be missing French midfielder, Franck Ribery due to a red card suspension.
For those not that familiar with the sport, look to see the teams, when they’re attacking, attempt to spread the defenses out by driving the attack down the sidelines. The advantage here is that it unpacks the defense a bit, as opposed to bunching them up in the penalty area, while enabling other attackers to still move towards the goal. Also on set pieces (free kicks and corner kicks) see how closely the defenders mark (i.e., cover) their assigned player. In addition, on corner kicks the defending team ideally should have a player on each goalpost while the goalkeeper remains in the middle ready to either punch the ball out or catch it if possible.
Another key will be how effectively each team mounts a counterattack. A good defensive midfielder – and I give Inter the edge in that department with the Argentinean, Esteban Cambiasso – can dispossess the attacking team effectively and start the ball moving for his team’s attack. Finally, keep an eye on Inter if they score early on. If they do, expect them to pack the penalty area and attack sparingly. It makes for dull watching sometimes, but it can also come back to haunt them.
Full disclosure: I don’t like either team, nor do i like the coaches. I suppose this gives me some solace as I really don’t care who wins. I do love the game, however, and I hope you’ll get a chance to watch. It starts at 2:30 p.m. EDT on your local Fox affiliate. Enjoy!