May 26th, 2004 • 11:05 pm
Well, at least there were goals… Last year’s final was unbearably boring and ended in a 0-0 draw, with the winner decided on penalty kicks (a.k.a. the Ultimate Football Lottery).
Last night, there were goals… But that was pretty much the only positive aspect of the game from the neutral point of view. Porto’s strategy was obviously to shut down the free-flowing Monaco side, and they succeeded in that. I don’t think Monaco has a single shot on goal in the entire game. Monaco was obviously hurt by their captain Giuly’s injury within half an hour. He had been lively and dangerous until then, unlike his performance in the semi-finals’ return leg at Chelsea, where he was largely anonymous.
I think it’s safe to say that the neutrals favoured Monaco. Since the Monaco fans are not exactly known for their large number or vocal capabilities, it was obvious from the constant booing coming from the stands whenever Porto had the ball that the majority of people in attendance shared the view that Monaco was the more deserving of the two teams. Their football is much more pleasant to watch, and they were the ones who beat Deportivo 8-3 and eliminated Real Madrid and Chelsea… The Porto players also have a fully deserved reputation for their really bad theatrics. So it was effectively a game of flair and panache against strategy and ugly football.
Unfortunately, as is so often the case, strategy won the day. This happens far too often in these competitions, and yet for some reason they continue to attract big crowds, to be such major money-making events. I guess that, from the point of view of the neutral majority, hope springs eternal… There is little doubt, however, that the most exciting stuff in such competitions takes place before the final. (In that respect, the 1998 World Cup final was a glorious exception.)
Ultimately, Monaco’s undoing was their inability to change their game and surprise their opponents. Porto had a strategy, based on what they had seen of Monaco thus far in the competition, and it worked, because Monaco didn’t produce anything new (except for a few promising moves by Nonda towards the end). One Monaco went one goal down, there was no way back. The other two goals were so obviously the result of Monaco exposing itself in the back in its attempts to draw level. There was nothing remarkable about them. You could see them coming.
Oh well. If the Porto manager does end up managing Chelsea, as is widely expected, we’ll have to see what kind of “strategy” he can imprint on the team. It most likely won’t be a good thing for elegance and panache in English football. Let’s just hope that Arsène Wenger can outsmart him and continue to assert the dominance of classy Arsenal next season.