As a fan and an admirer of football there is always dreams you wish to see your team achieve before you interest and patience wears thin. A certain dream for many can be the thrill of seeing your beloved side wear their colours on foreign soil. I am of course referring to the joys European football. Whether it is the Champions League or the Europa League, every die hard fan, or even football fanatic, would like to see their local sides rub shoulders with the best footballing giants from across Europe. And the glamourisation and sheer dominance of European clubs doesn’t just mean you get to see the best players at club level, International superstars flock to the biggest footballing teams of the European nation’s to ensure their time in the spotlight of the Champions League.
Under the floodlights, above the stadium as the teams line up to, simply titled Champions League Anthem by the London Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, there is a massive buzz amongst the spectators, right down to the ball boys. The biggest domestic/international competition
is about to take place and both teams wanting to win makes it all the more interesting. It is a great peice of football to witness as both team who participate are statistically the best in their home country and although club teams are supported it also gives little patriotism.
A rare occurrence in the Champions League is a small team knocking out a big team or ‘Giant Killing’ as we so regularly see in the F.A Cup. But when this feat does happen, they are the subject of much discussion and praise as it so rarely happens. The Champions League is known for being too close to call in the knockout stages, with the only team left are blessed with superb skill, flair and sheer dominance.
A team from Cyprus named APOEL Nicosia, from last seasons Champions League (2011-12) shook off their ‘small club’ tag and went on a Giant-Killing spree. They were featured in the second qualifying stages, which was a long and brutal road to the group stages. UEFA awarding only 1 berth to the Cypriot Football Association meant that it would only be APOEL who would have the chance to go head-to-head with the largest clubs in Europe. After being awarded a fairly straight forward game, won 6-0 on aggregate, defeating Albanian opposition Skenderbau Korce. The next stage saw them face a little tougher opposition from Slovenia, Slovan Bratislava. After a 0-0 draw, they won their home fixture 2-0, which meant they advanced to the Play-off round. Highly ranked Polish side Wilsa Krakow, proved to be a difficult test, showing how determined every club is to clinch the group stages. APOEL would win 3-2 after the two legs and they progressed to the group stages, to be drawn alongside Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk and Zenit St Petersburg. In the group stage they drew three and lost one. They caused upset when they defeated Porto and Zenit to aid their position into the knock-out stages. Although many thought this was an easy team in order to advance further. Lyon had thought this when beat them 1-0 at home. However APEOL turned the game around and won 1-0 at home also, advancing on penalties. It wasn’t meant to be, and APEOL were drawn against Real Madrid. Madrid won 3-0 at the Bernabeau and also won 5-2 at the GSP stadium. This magnificent run proves nothing is impossible and the true entertainment of European Football.
As I write this article we are currently in the Play-off stages. Celtic have ran out 2-0 winners at Helsingborg in their first leg, and even the play-off games prove just as important as the group stages. Upon just watching you can really hear the venom and drive coming from the home supporters, this isn’t just another game or a friendly. Every break is followed by adrenaline pumping screams, every foul is met by boo’s. This is what the atmosphere sounds like when there is so much at stake, even qualification is precious. A brief glance at some highlights and I was taken back by the quality of goals from Cluj, a team from Romania who also qualified for the 2008-09 Champions League. They faced FC Basel, who caused a major phenomenon when they eliminated Manchester United from the group stages. I did have to remind myself that these aren’t just clubs that are in a lower position in their league, these are the best teams in Europe, and the quality of goals should be electric and a joy to watch. Reperesenting Cyprus this tournament will be AEL Limassol who face Anderlecht in the play-off round on the 22nd August. Maybe the Cypriot Football Association can stamp their marks again on European football ?
As I write this Article the next game I shall watch is Malaga VS Panathinakos, Malaga boasting such players such as Sebastian Fernandez, Demichelis and Bapstita. Where as Panathinakos are famous for their hostile fans and also offer such footballing talent such as Boumsong, Leto and Almeida Pinto. Malaga have shown a great progression as four years ago they were in their Segunda Division. The same can be said for Borussia Moenchengladbah, who have also fought hard to return to compete with the European elite and reinstating their position as being back in the Bundesliga amongst the best German squads. All teams will be looking to performing hard and pushing their bodies to the limit to ensure their names are mentioned in the Group stage draw to be taking place on the 30th August in Monaco.
Who could forget the famous Champions League Finals ? Every year goes down in history, and every year there is a moment we talk about for decades. Whether it is ‘that penalty’ that John Terry missed, or even ‘that penalty’ that Arjen Robben missed, there is always something that happens where we think ‘wow’ or ‘what if’. What if Liverpool never came back and accepted defeat at 3-0 down in Turkey? What if Jens Lehman never got sent off in France in the 2004 Final? Remember ‘that goal’ Zinedine Zidane scored in the 2002 Final against Leverkusen ? 10 Years ago Real Madrid were Champions, and it would be a surprise if they lifted the trophy again at Wembley this season. 20 Years ago the Champions League only had two groups and Marseille were the Champions. No matter the year, the Champions League gets bigger and better annually, with the Final being arguably the biggest game of the year. No footballing fan will ever forget the comeback in Turkey for Liverpool. After being 3-0 down the game went to penalties after they pulled the game back to 3-3. Liverpool won on penalties and were crowned the Champions of Europe. Everyone applauded, it wouldn’t have come shock if even a neutral cried as this has been one of the most spectacular of events. The same can be said for Chelsea’s Triumph over Bayern Munich. Munich finishing second in their domestic league and Chelsea having an assistant manager in charge and finishing 6th in their domestic campaign, European winners would give their strange season that extra spice to have Chelsea fans constantly reminded of the 2011-12 season. Muller scored for Munich in the 83rd minute, Chelsea fans were heartbroken as this was surely too late in the game to save the title. The stage was set for Drogba’s final game. Juan Mata fired in a corner in the 88th minute and Didier equalled the scores. Extra time it would be. Early into added time Munich won a penalty. Even the Bayern players couldn’t watch, even if they did it would of been more painful as Arjen Robben missed the penalty as Cech dived low to save. Penalties again. Nailbiting stuff as both teams were denied the chance to take a lead. As I said the stage was set for Drogba, Munich missed two penalties in a row and Drogba has the final penalty. He made no mistake, his time at Chelsea finally came to an end but he certainly repaid the fans by winning them the European Championship. After the game I couldn’t help but see how much it meant to both teams. Bayern’s players were slumped, emotionless and almost lifeless. Chelsea were dancing, partying and celebrating like they were kings, not just champions. I suppose they were kings, kings of football as they certainly showed they were no push overs and after a hard season, this was the perfect end.
Personally I cannot wait for the final at Wembley. I hope there is twice the mania and emotions as displayed last year. European football really is a joy to watch and a pleasure to experience.