Manchester United will face Barcelona to determine the winner of the European Champions League. On Tuesday night in London, Manchester United took care of business against Arsenal with a 3-1 victory (4-1 on aggregate). On Wednesday night in London, Barcelona stunned Chelsea with a goal in “stoppage time” (the 93rd minute to be exact). That goal tied the match 1-1 and saw Barca through to the finals by virtue of having scored more goals away from home (the match in Spain had ended 0-0). The “away goals” rule is intended to encourage teams to play attacking football on the road, which Barca did and Chelsea did not.
This shapes up as a dream final. It pits the defending champion and the best team in Europe’s best league against the best team in Europe’s second best league. It pits the best all around club in Europe (when Rooney, Ronaldo, and the two center backs are all healthy) against the most explosive offense in Europe. For example, Barca scored six against Real Madrid last weekend.
However, Chelsea (last year’s runner-up to Man U) has a decent claim that it should be playing in the final. More precisely, Wednesday’s match was so poorly officiated that it’s not really possible to say who deserved to prevail.
Chelsea scored in the ninth minute and then had four appeals for a penalty kick turned down. Two of them were beyond dispute — an obvious handball in the penalty area and a foul inside the area that the ref erroneously concluded was outside. A third incident involved a mugging in the area that would probably be ruled a penalty at least as often as not.
On the other hand, the Norwegian ref harshly sent off a Barca defender in the 65th minute. This forced the Catalans to play the final 25-plus minutes a man down. To their credit, Barcelona was able to remain a credible attacking force, and finally scored despite being short-handed.
But, at a minimum, Chelsea should have had two penalty kicks. This would almost certainly produced one or two more goals. Would Barca have been able to match this playing with 11 men? Possibly one goal, but probably not two.
As a neutral, I’m left to hope (1) that the final will live up to the hype and (2) that referee Tom Ovrebo spends the rest of his career officiating matches in the Norwegian second division.
UPDATE: I may not be a true neutral, though. Chelsea’s loss means they can concentrate on their FA Cup final clash against Everton. And, with no bigger fish left to fry, Chelsea will no doubt be out for blood.