This match took place in the Champions League group stage of the 2010/2011 season on the evening of 3 November 2010. The match was selected by the author as a live match from the Sky offer for 90-minute, i.e. complete, observation, including commentary. There were some good reasons for this:
If there is a following at all, it is on the author’s part for AS Roma. This should not be explained in detail here, but it would never go so far as to abandon the effort for objectivity, as one can possibly testify later on the basis of the report. The first leg was also watched in full length, the one with Italian commentary, — a language the author is halfway familiar with — which already provides another reason for this option: to capture versatile, multilingual commentary. The match selected here was followed with Swiss commentary, as the language is always provided by the host. Another aspect: the Swiss presented a few familiar faces from the Bundesliga whose careers are also worth following.
In any case, this match was particularly explosive, as FC Basel had taken the three points from the Italian capital a fortnight ago with a 3:1 win. As strong as FC Basel was in that match, Roma dominated the game. Two weeks ago, they came back from an early deficit to equalise 1:1, after which one could speak of a clear takeover of the game. They caught a counter-attack soon after to make it 1:2, pressed quite energetically for the equaliser in the second half and were finally finished off by another perfectly executed counter-attack relatively shortly before the end. On top of that, Roma had lost 2-0 in Basel in the Euro League in the previous season, so they had plenty of motivation to set these circumstances straight in their favour. Of course, apart from “setting the record straight”, it is also very specifically about staying in the top flight or at least the Euro League, which was not even remotely guaranteed for either team, either before or after the game.
In this respect, it was to be a highly passionate match, as could be seen from the icy expression on the face with which the Italian Francesco Totti greeted his opposite number when the captains met. Well, Champions League is Champions League and actually means the greatest to everyone who can be there. This also applied to the spectators, who are always capable of special celebrations in Basel anyway, especially as every point snatched is still appreciated by them. They are grateful for their team’s dedication and always ready to applaud a successful scene, even if it does not lead directly to a goal. There is no sign of the expectation that can be observed so much in this country, which declares everything but German victories to be “embarrassing performances” or even “catastrophic results”, and which spreads such an unpleasant atmosphere – especially on the part of the media – and which rather often has a paralysing effect. Pure joy and enthusiasm, which neither should nor will be put a stop to, not even on the part of the commentators. The kickers appreciate this and are prepared to give everything for country, club and fans. Today, football will be played. Let’s see what comes out for us.
The game had such a high tempo and so many excellent, successful actions that the often suggested experiment could be used, in which faces and jerseys are made unrecognisable and then a few experts “guess” which teams they could be: It is quite possible that one or the other would confuse FC Basel with FC Barcelona or Manchester United. The skilful ball sequences over many stations, unbelievably variable attacking play, which with countless crosses into the penalty area, almost all of which were hit precisely, provided an unbelievable and permanent danger of scoring, were impressive. In general, the offensive spirit, which expressed the permanent belief in scoring goals, was impressive on Basel’s side.
On the other side, Roma did have the first scene when their most eye-catching player, Frenchman Jeremy Menez broke through in the penalty area, was pushed wide to the baseline, but from an acute angle almost surprised the goalkeeper, who was expecting a return, with a hard shot on goal, but the ball went just over the crossbar.
From the start, the Swiss announcer was at work with a pleasant objectivity, anticipation and sympathy. He drew you into the action with a very likeable manner that could surprise anyone who is used to (purely) German-language commentaries – if it was the first time. No lectures, no tension killed by idiotic error chain analyses, no expectations in the sense of “but now they must slowly do a bit more forward”, no pure commentary that wants to explain the entire football to the viewer on the basis of an interim result, no generalisations during ongoing moves or similar nonsense, under whose constant sprinkling one is here in Germany, and which can spoil the fun so wonderfully but completely. A relief for such a battered German football-listening soul. The speaker was always ready to correct the minor mistakes he made, even, symbolically speaking, hitting himself in the forehead when he once declared crosses to be the wrong concept, but simply recanted this a short time later: “Forget what I said: Flanks ARE the right concept.” Unthinkable in this country.
So FC Basel pressed mightily, the aforementioned “effort put in” is actually too bland a phrase. They ran in ever new waves of attack and always found a place to play, because all the men were permanently on the move. The two top strikers known in this country, who are not yet past their prime – i.e. they did not want to retire to their old age in the Swiss league but are still playing at the highest level – Alex Frei and Marco Streller – repeatedly embarrassed the Italian defence, also thanks to their header strength.
Of course, Roma had opportunities to counterattack from time to time. In these situations, they were able to show their class when they bridged the midfield at lightning speed – sometimes also by skilful dribbling, whereby it was often enough to leave a single opponent standing – and the agile attackers Menez and Vucinic got into position and were switched on.
Despite the clear superiority of the home team, which one would actually like to see them gradually exploit one of the actions, Roma beat them to one of these rare attacks. Vucinic was brilliantly played free, wanted to enter the penalty area with the ball, was slightly obstructed, maybe just before the penalty area line, possibly the Swiss expected a whistle for a split second, as Vucinic was brought down, Menez used this moment to reach the ball pretty much 15 metres from the goal first – and to circulate it well-considered and with the highest technical class and precision into the lower right corner of the goal, overcoming the desperately rushing goalkeeper. The score was 0:1, but this did not dampen the mood in the stands. The spectators saw a great game and a great team. Every now and then you concede a goal. So what? Respect for the class of the opponent, which the commentator also acknowledged despite his palpable disappointment and sympathy. That’s football. That’s how it’s fun, even if it doesn’t always have the just reward or the desired outcome.
Just compare this with the comments you would hear here, which are as heavy on the ear as the wolf’s stomach once was:
“They were all running on empty” or “Roma invited them to score” or “a catastrophic positional error preceded it” or “a stupid ball loss in the forward movement” and certainly “the goalkeeper is also partly to blame”, analyses of errors that contain as much truth as Wolf’s paw was white and his voice was bright….
Basel kept on running, but the very opposite of headless. Roma could rarely free themselves. It was a real power play, which FC Basel created via the constantly attacking — and thus freeing up — positions on the outside. However, the class and – it is fair to call it that here – the serenity of the Italians was shown in another lightning counter-attack, which was very dangerous due to the many determined backs. When left-back John-Arne Riise, so attacking in other games, suddenly appeared in a central attacking position on the edge of the penalty area during one of his very rare advances in this game, well played and with brilliant technique holding the ball, his opponent did not know what else to do – and fouled him. Of course, as a skilful defender usually does, before entering the penalty-worthy zone. Riise, however, has learned so much in many years of England and Serie A that he did not react to the foul by falling, but instead cleverly continued his stumbling run into the penalty area with an energetic step towards the ball, which was beautifully ready to be shot in front of him at 14 metres goal distance. The defender now took the last option, having already gone down for fouling, and clutched Riise’s advancing leg for a split second. Even after that, the right falling skills are still required, because a penalty is not simply “given” these days. In this case, however, Angreifer’s skilled behaviour and the situation were too clear, and the referee had no choice but to interrupt the game and point to the spot.
Captain Totti took the penalty himself, but the goalkeeper guessed the corner and reached the rather unplaced ball, so that from the Swiss point of view one can almost speak of bad luck that it nevertheless crossed the goal line.
As unjust as this intermediate score was – as the commentator only expertly and emotionally recognised with the remark “a rather meagre reward for the great performance” – FC Basel did not let themselves be distracted from what was in itself an impeccable playful performance and there was no sign of the enthusiasm and cheering in the crowd either. Roma, too, sensed that the game was far from over. However, they soon began to play some highly unsympathetic tactical games, generally attributed to the Italians, of the type “How can I give myself and the other players a short break and at the same time get a few seconds off the clock? Time play is what they call it.
The pressure was overwhelming. The score of the game suggested that such behaviour would be successful. In particular, captain Totti, “Signore Roma” and in fact responsible for the supporters, was whistled at every touch of the ball by the attentive audience, who duly acknowledged this time-stealing behaviour and had identified him as the culprit – with some justification.
Totti was almost only a stand-up footballer in this game. He impressed with a single perfect pass, which showed his world class, when he sensed the onrushing Menez from his own half with his back to the opponent’s goal and played the ball perfectly timed into his path with an artistic movement against his own running direction, thus creating another good chance. Otherwise, one could only interpret his behaviour with some benevolence as meaning that he wanted to calm his team-mates down and take out the hectic as far as possible. However, it could also have helped if he had moved from time to time, especially to the back. He has also been seen kicking penalty kicks better.
At FC Basel, the perfect coordination was noticeable. Time and again Inkoom was available on the right flank in the half field and from there he opened up the game with lightning-quick, precise passes. Shaqiri and Yapi also stood out from a first-class team, constantly switching positions in midfield and also making their own forays into the front to create a scoring threat. The rest of the team also clearly demonstrated Champions League calibre throughout.
Back to the match: The game went into the dressing room with a score of 0:2. It was an unfair result, as one could say without any doubt. The Swiss felt that they could score a goal at any time, they dared to do so and they were constantly close. Even at 0:2, the game was far from decided, as Roma also indicated by their behaviour. Surprisingly, Basel increased the pressure after the break. There was almost no more relief and cross after cross was hit into the penalty area, all well prepared as well as supported with plenty of receivers in the middle. There was always just that little bit missing.
But just when the commentator, out of pure disappointment and sympathy, had made the only critical remark about the remedy with the crosses, came the one that led to the goal. Well, after so many attempts with narrow misses, it was allowed to come about a little happily in this scene. For Nicola Burdisso, the Argentinian centre-back of Roma, touched another dangerous cross from the also conspicuous Stocker gauzily with his head, so that the goalkeeper Julio Sergio, who was sailing into the ball behind him, missed it and the ready attacker Alexander Frei was able to nod the ball in. When the announcer initially blamed the goalkeeper after this action, but this turned out to be a mistake in the later replay, he corrected without shame: “No, the goalkeeper is not to blame.”
Unthinkable in this country. It would just be dispassionately “flies past the ball” and “if he goes there, he must have it” and “he doesn’t look good there” (which then always triggers the follow-up question: How would a goalkeeper actually look good if he conceded a goal).
This goal came so early that one could have imagined anything in this game, even a complete turnaround. The Italians, exposed to this extreme pressure, were now rolling to the ground more and more frequently whenever they had the opportunity, and were then treated extensively. Logically, the crowd began to get angry with the would-be stars, who were being outplayed by their own team. The referee was clearly not on the side of the Swiss serial winners, as he often interpreted other small actions to their disadvantage. There were still three critical penalty situations, all of which he ruled out of order, which in any case amounts to a perceived injustice, especially as he had no hesitation in awarding the (justified) one on the other side.
When Rome’s best, attacking player Menez, left the pitch after 75 minutes for what should have been a more defensively oriented Greco, the least to be expected from this change happened: Greco picked up a free ball after a similar ticklish action as before the penalty and also comparable to the first goal – and pushed it just as precisely into the corner of the goal at the far right post, with virtually his first touch on the ball. The 3:1 for Roma.
Basel, however, still saw no reason to admit defeat. They continued to play their game skilfully, certainly sensing that Roma’s energy was flagging, and continued to attack, not even furiously but skilfully. The connecting goal in the 83rd minute was such a logical consequence that even afterwards one had reason not only to believe Basel would do a lot, but almost to wish for it as a matter of justice.
The Italians reinforced the tactics they had adopted and soon found themselves on the ground after every completely harmless action, which as a supporter simply had to be embarrassing and an indictment of football and its rules. Is there no way to stop this obvious time-wasting? Nicola Burdisso injured himself after a rough tackle by a Swiss player. It is understandable, however, that the Swiss, who really just wanted to continue playing football, were at some point boiling inside because of the Roman time-wasting tactics, and it had to come to such an action. One can only continue to speculate afterwards. Burdisso resumed the game several times, only to go down again after each new attempt and to take more seconds off the clock from there, and only after the third finally “gave up” and let himself be carried down, after which his brother Guillermo replaced him.
The fact that Totti, of all people, with neither a stain on his white jersey nor a single bead of sweat on his forehead, went down theatrically on the sidelines after a tiny touch from a Swiss player in a repeatedly ridiculous way of “asserting the ball”, which was only aimed at gaining time, and thereby convinced the referee of a serious offence by the Swiss player, which was punished with a yellow-red, is further small proof of the injustice of the game and especially of this outcome. However, it should be noted that the first leg result was not much fairer. Whether, according to an old football saying, “everything evens out in the end” should be left open. Why should it?
In any case, the referee kept up his “Roman support” – which can only be implied in inverted commas and thus behind closed doors – until the final whistle by allowing only three minutes of injury time. Certainly, the fans, who had already given him some “Schieber” shouts for this during the game, are classified as biased because they are partisan, but, as already mentioned, they are quite sensitive and there remains a rather insipid aftertaste. The value of three minutes, which was also estimated in advance by the speaker, was at the absolute lower limit, as it is a standard that was simply not appropriate for this game, especially as it rewarded Roma’s behaviour instead of punishing it (treating it neutrally would be the least; and for that alone, four minutes would be the minimum; if it was to be a penalty, as the behaviour was unseemly, it should have been even more).
Nevertheless, the entire match was on the highest Champions League level in terms of tension and drama from the first to the last second. You could never look away. Action upon action, attack upon attack, passionate fans, great stadium atmosphere. even if this became hostile after a certain point, however, for understandable reasons of the fans generally considered to be sensitive, an emotional, anticipatory, expert reporter who did not play himself into the foreground, five goals, even if slightly unfairly distributed, football fan’s heart, what more do you want?
A great game. More of it. And please more commentaries of the Swiss, English, Italian, French — oh, it would be enough if they were no longer German — type …