UEFA Champions League A-Z
Following Inter Milan’s impressive win in the UEFA Champions League final, 45 years after their last victory in the tournament, FIFA.com reviews the events of this season’s edition of Europe’s premier club trophy, the winners of which will now appear at the 2010 FIFA World Club Cup.
A is for Abu Dhabi, as that is where European Champions Inter Milan will head later this year as continental representatives, to take part in the FIFA World Club Cup in the United Arab Emirates.
B is for Barcelona and Bayern, the club colours worn by Argentinian starlet Lionel Messi, the competition’s top scorer with eight goals, and Croatian hotshot Ivica Olic, just behind his rival with seven.
C is for CSKA Moscow: the former Red Army team made their first-ever quarter-final appearance this year at the expense of fancied Sevilla.
D is for Didier Drogba, but more specifically for the Ivoirian being down on his luck in the Champions League. The high-profile forward was sent off in Chelsea’s last-16 tie with Inter Milan, just as he was in the final two years previously versus Manchester United. He was also suspended by UEFA last year, following the return leg of his club’s semi-final against Barcelona. Chelsea’s all-time leading scorer in European competition with 31 goals, a Champions League winner’s medal has so far proved elusive for Drogba.
E is for Eintracht Frankfurt, defeated 7-3 by Real Madrid in the 1960 final at Hampden Park in front of 135,000 incredulous Scottish fans, in what is generally regarded as one of the finest matches in the history of the game. Fifty years on, the players involved that great day were invited to this year’s final in Madrid to mark the anniversary.
F is for Diego Forlan: Atletico Madrid’s Uruguayan frontman managed the highest number of shots on target during the group stage.
G is for Girondins de Bordeaux, whose record in the group phase outshone all other qualifiers, but who eventually fell 3-2 on aggregate to fellow French side, Lyon, after a stunning run of eight wins, one draw and one solitary defeat.
H is for Ottmar Hitzfeld and Ernst Happel, the only coaches prior to this year’s final to have guided two different teams to football’s ultimate prize (Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich for the former; Feyenoord and Hamburg for the latter). Jose Mourinho now joins this elite club, his membership dues paid for by his victories with Inter and Porto.
I is for Vincenzo Iaquinta, who scored the first of a paltry total of four goals notched up by Juventus during the entire group phase, in a Champions League campaign to forget for La Vecchia Signora.
J is for Jose Mourinho, also known as ‘The Special One’. And a special season it was too for the astute Portuguese coach, as he emerged victorious from a battle of wits with his former mentor, Louis van Gaal in the final. His tactical nous, his close relationship with his players and his charisma undoubtedly make him one of world football’s top coaches today.
K is for Kaka, who, just like his French team-mate Karim Benzema, did not enjoy the most memorable of seasons at Real Madrid. The Brazilian was unable to dictate play at the Bernabeu as well as he had done for his previous clubs. Kaka now has the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ to prove to the watching world that he is still at the top of his game.
L is for Liverpool, the first English club knocked out of this year’s tournament. The Reds were left floundering in third place in their group, six points behind Lyon and a whole eight behind Fiorentina. All in all, it proved a disappointing year for the five-time European champions.
M is for Lionel Messi and Diego Milito, both impish Argentinian attackers, and both capable of bringing a game to life with a skip of their magical feet.
N is for not defended (again). The curse of the defending champions struck again this year, with Barcelona’s semi-final elimination extending this rather strange phenomenon to 18 years, since the tournament became known as the Champions League in 1992.
O is for Old Trafford. Manchester United celebrated the centenary of their famous stadium in style by inflicting an emphatic 4-0 defeat on AC Milan in the round of 16, before crashing out to Bayern on away goals in the quarters. Yet again, it was the place to be for high drama.
P is for Miralem Pjanic, Lyon’s Bosnian midfielder. The heavy burden of replacing Juninho in Les Gones’ line-up did not seem to affect the young international too much in Madrid, as he scored the crucial goal that ended the Spanish side’s interest in this year’s competition. He is part of a new wave of exciting Bosnian footballers, which includes Edin Dzeko and Zvjezdan Misimovic.
Q is for qualification, such as that of Olympiakos, the only round-of-16 club to have emerged from the third qualifying round. Or that of Arsenal, Lyon and Stuttgart, who all had to negotiate their way through the tricky play-off round.
R is for Real Madrid, the most successful club in the history of the event with nine titles, and knocked out at the last-16 stage for the sixth successive year. This time it was Lyon who were their undoing, ending the Spaniards’ dream of playing the final in their own stadium.
S is for Saturday, on which day the Champions League final was played for the very first time. An initiative of UEFA President Michel Platini, it enabled more families to attend the event than ever before. The final traditionally takes place on a Wednesday.
T is for treble, such as the one completed by Inter this season, adding the Champions League title to the Serie A and Coppa Italia that they had already secured. Only Barcelona in 2009 and Manchester United in 1999 had already achieved such a feat. PSV Eindhoven (in 1988), Ajax (in 1972) and Celtic (in 1967) also amassed the prestigious hat-trick of trophies back in the European Champion Clubs’ Cup era.
U is for Unirea Urziceni, crowned Romanian champions in 2009 for the first time in the club’s history. In their maiden Champions League campaign they proved themselves to be worthy competitors, missing out on qualification from Group G by just a point, pulling off a shock 4-1 win over Rangers in Glasgow and an illustrious 1-0 victory against Sevilla at home in the process.
V is for Louis van Gaal and Mark van Bommel, respectively coach and captain of Bayern Munich, who led the Bavarian giants to Bundesliga and German Cup glory, but were unable to make it three out of three in Madrid against Inter.
W is for Howard Webb: At the age of 38, the former police officer, regarded as the natural successor to Graham Poll, benefitted from the untimely exits suffered by England’s club sides to referee this year’s final in Madrid. Next season’s equivalent will take place in Webb’s homeland, at Wembley Stadium.
X is for Xavi: Barcelona’s talisman showed his class in the aftermath of the Catalans’ thrashing of Arsenal in the Camp Nou, congratulating the Gunners on being “worthy opponents who always tried to play attacking football”.
Y is for Ayila Yussuf, a 25-year-old midfield powerhouse from Nigeria, part of Dynamo Kiev’s foreign legion, who has now racked up a total of 19 Champions League appearances.
Z is for evergreen Argentinian defender Javier Zanetti, captain of Inter Milan. Now almost 37, the final match versus Munich was his 700th for I Nerrazzuri and his 132nd European tie.