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Tuesday and Wednesday, 8 and 9.12.2009 was Champions Leauge. The nights of decisions. Today it counts. Everything is at stake. Last matchday of the group phase. Which teams will advance? Above all, of course, this question applied (in this country) to the German teams. Wolfsburg, Stuttgart, Bayern had to win their games if possible. At this point, we will first examine the individual group constellations and thus draw attention to the ideal advantage that the broadcaster “Sky” had through the exclusive broadcasting rights to organise a really dramatic evening that would have to captivate every viewer. And what they made of it…
In the Wolfsburg group, it would have been enough for Wolfsburg to achieve the same result against Manchester United as ZSKA Moscow, who had to play Besiktas Istanbul and certainly could not assume an easy victory. Wolfsburg were lucky, however, in that the Euroleauge was no longer in their grasp, so the defeat would not hurt them too much. By no means a matter of course. After all, this goal could have been at stake. In this sense, one can confidently speak of a “favourable constellation”. The good omens were made even better by the fact that Wolfsburg’s opponents Manchester United were playing for nothing, which was also reflected in ManU’s line-up. And another plus point, completely ignored in German reporting: Besiktas could even draw level on points with their opponents if they won against ZSKA, and if the result was more favourable than a 2-1 victory – the result from the first leg in favour of ZSKA – they could even reach third place and thus the Euroleague themselves. So in good German: Besiktas was playing for something, even if it was “only” the Euroleague.
The Turkish spectators, who are quite enthusiastic anyway, went into the stadium with some hope, anticipation and the usual euphoria. The fact that there was also the possibility that if Besiktas had won and Wolfsburg had lost at the same time, all three teams would have had 7 points, after which the direct comparison of all six results of these teams against each other would have been the deciding factor for advancement, is something that “a German spectator can probably not be expected to accept”. Because this was never mentioned. If one looked at the constellation even more closely, there was a curiosity that actually calls the whole set of rules into question:
Assuming Besiktas win the game against ZSKA Moscow by better than 2:1, the decisive goal – the best example being the 1:0 – comes very late in the game. So Wolfsburg don’t know about it until the final whistle, so they try to win their own game, always keeping in mind that the risk doesn’t have to be exaggerated because, as we hear, the score in the parallel game is 0-0 and Wolfsburg would therefore be in second place even with this current score. In their game in Manchester it’s 1-1, we assume. Still, of course, you have to worry that ZSKA will suddenly score the winning goal after all and overtake them. Well, Wolfsburg don’t know anything about Besiktas suddenly scoring the winning goal, continue to cautiously go for the winning goal and – also concede the 1:2 shortly before the end. What do you realise at this moment? All three teams have 7 points, as mentioned. Who is now second, who third and who completely out? (By the way, this was really possible for a few minutes during the games). The so dearly beloved German commentators were certainly not prepared for this eventuality, at least one was – probably dismissed as “overburdened with it”) — not made aware of this possibility. The much worse fear about the truth on the subject was who was overtaxed: the commentators themselves.
They had to rely on themselves to determine the final standings generated in such a (and not even unrealistic) case, An indictment of the broadcaster all round. Even more so when you think of the missed opportunity to bind viewers, to win them over, because the drama is at its peak at such a moment.
The constellation in the case described above, Wolfsburg loses 1:2, Besiktas wins 1:0, their own desired result: in the table below Wolfsburg would still be first, so would be allowed to spend the winter in the Champions League, while ZSKA would finish in second place and thus have reached the Euroleague. Besiktas would therefore be out.
Why would this constellation be so strange? Quite simple: Besiktas overtook ZSKA Moscow “by their own efforts” with the winning goal. They lost the first leg 1:2, won the second leg 1:0, so according to European Cup arithmetic they are through (as they are level on points). Wolfsburg is further ahead at that moment anyway, since even a conceded 1:2, as happened in this case, would not change anything. That would mean that Wolfsburg’s conceding this goal, which did them no harm, would decide whether they progress in the group. The tragedy that Besiktas Istanbul and their supporters would have to feel at the moment when they were about to celebrate after achieving their goal, the 1-0 victory, would be comparable to the Schalker “championship celebration” in 2001, which had to be broken off minutes later when Bayern equalised in Hamburg. Only here, tragedy and injustice would be about equal.
Even if it seems like a remote possibility to which one attaches no importance whatsoever: Suddenly and unexpectedly such a curiosity occurs. How would one stand there as a commentator then? “Uh, wait, I didn’t expect that now. We’re just checking who’s further along.” Or, alternatively, consider how competent it would seem if someone were prepared for such a thing and had this fact ready in the minutes when the possibility existed. No, a German is not interested in such things. How embarrassing and incompetent this is (and also permanently comes across as such) can only be judged if one were to watch an English or Italian sports programme for comparison. There it would be impossible not to know something like this.
To what extent does this call the whole rule into question? Well, read:
The rule with the direct comparison was introduced at some point so that individual high victories against underdog teams would not be the deciding factor. A good idea and a pleasing concern. It is not about destroying Malta or San Marino by 10 goals in the group matches. One win, if you can get it, is as valuable as another. You can either experiment, save forces or spare the opponent, just like that. Apart from the fact that manipulations would have to be feared.
(There was once the curious situation that Spain and Portugal were level on points in a World Cup qualifier, before the last matchday. They were up against “cannon fodder”, Spain in Albania and Portugal at home against Estonia. Spain allegedly scammed their way to a 9-0 victory with a pair of gift shoes, while at the same time promising the Estonians a bonus if they lost by more than 0-4. When the Estonians had achieved this dream result, you could still see their concealed joy on the pitch. Just think: joy after a 0:4?)
On the other hand, in this day and age, when almost every game is contested, especially in the Champions League, shouldn’t we perhaps return to the old models? The calculation is much simpler to begin with, that much is certain. And this seems to be a criterion at least to the extent that, at least in this country, viewers cannot even be expected to carry it out in all eventualities, not even in a few relevant possibilities, apart from the suspicion of overtaxing reporters. Where is the problem in returning to the old mode? Especially since, as can be seen, the curious sequence just drawn reveals another weakness that could certainly be worked out in other constellations. Or is it considered exciting to introduce such a random element and say to oneself: now we’ve introduced a bunch of complicated rules (which are suspected of being too much in all directions), now play nicely and afterwards a look at the rulebook will surely give us information about the final table, if we haven’t overlooked anything?
Here, then, are the pitfalls of the rule applied: Besiktas would have been condemned to elimination through no fault of their own and without any possible influence if they had achieved their dream goal of winning the match 1-0 and thus, in their theory, outscoring the opponent they had just beaten. Nevertheless, they would have been eliminated because of a goal conceded by the team conceding that goal — in this case Wolfsburg — irrelevant goal. Surely this could give rise to a final rethink of the rules? Apart from the fact that it could obviously be quite difficult for the players and spectators to understand. Just think that the Besiktas fans just keep on celebrating because they don’t even have to calculate it and read in the morning in the newspaper that their team is out…
In any case, the spectator was “spared” complicated mathematics. It would have been interesting. But who is representative? The fact that you could also use something like that to build up suspense and to grasp drama is probably a matter of imagination…!
For Stuttgart and Bayern, it was all about “win or fly”. Both managed this task in a rather convincing style. But is that cause for arrogance? The German teams lag far behind the top in Europe. There was so much evidence that they have not stood out in terms of quality for a long time, even from the so-called “underdogs”, that more joy and recognition could be gained here as well. Bayern were half-dead and only got the chance because Girondins Bordeaux still took the previous home game against Juventus seriously, despite having already qualified, and beat Juventus. If Juventus had won that game before, Bayern would have been out already, no ifs, ands or buts. Please give thanks for the support! Instead, the “mir san mir” attitude is taking hold again. A little humility would be much better. Just think of the external image and the way it is perceived abroad.
Stuttgart won relatively clearly against Unirea Urziceni with three early goals. A success for the Germans, no question. Stuttgart, too, were almost out before the previous game and needed a win at Glasgow Rangers, which they did get, but it was anything but “easy”, let alone “convincing”.
Specifically, it looked like ZSKA had taken an early lead, which was helpful in that Wolfsburg at least knew for sure that they would need the win. A clear goal was a relief for the game management, as, by the way, even Louis van Gaal himself mentioned before the Bayern game to highlight this small advantage Bayern had at Juve. Not entirely unjustified, if the author is allowed a say here, and not comparable to “whistling in the woods”, such a comment. He said they at least knew they had to win, while Juve would be further along even if they drew, which might hinder them in their approach to the game. Along the lines of, “What do we actually want? Oh yes, the final whistle.”
Wolfsburg fell behind, Even though ManU fielded a B eleven, one should certainly not accuse the players fielded of indifference. Coach Ferguson does this – for many years now, by the way – very consciously, one can assume. He wants to give the second-tier players opportunities. They are satisfied, have the chance to show that they belong in the senior eleven (which will surely happen to one or the other young player very soon), sparkle with ambition (which the senior players might not do) and thus also achieve results which always both make it ring in the coffers and positively influence the five-year ranking.
Wolfsburg nevertheless played a great game. The chances were there, the goal just wouldn’t come. Besiktas also did everything to increase Wolfsburg’s chances. They attacked ZSKA’s goal and came close to equalising more than once. Finally Wolfsburg managed to equalise. A great and deserved goal. Half an hour of hope left. Besiktas equaliser or their own winning goal. The chances were there. But suddenly the caught counterattack, the 1:2 for ManU. Seconds later, however, Besiktas really did score the equalising goal. That meant that a draw would now be enough for Wolfsburg again. Besiktas on the other side, knowing the above special constellation, would only have the hope of scoring their own winning goal and at the same time crave the Wolfsburg equaliser for promotion to the Euroleague.
Seconds later: Wolfsburg with a huge chance… Riether almost on the goal line, it has to be there … the goal to advance … he gets the ball on his leg, shakes his head in bewilderment, as do all the other Wolfsburg players, by the way, Michael Owen lurks on the halfway line for the ball that is hit far forward, runs alone towards the goal and “he simply cant miss”, the 1:3, the end of all dreams. It was the same for Besiktas at that moment. And ZSKA was further ahead anyway, so that the 1:2, the winning goal for ZSKA, was only of statistical value.
The special drama consisted, among other things, in the fact that Wolfsburg probably “kicked themselves in the ass” for minutes when they heard about the equaliser from Besiktas, because in that case the draw they had just given away (unaware of this Besiktas equaliser) would have been enough. Incredible drama and tension!
In any case, it was the ideal opportunity to create real suspense and drama and to captivate and fascinate the spectators. The commentators refrained from doing so, and the “as usual” remains a completely superfluous epithet. When the hot final phase was underway and one was really wavering between a chair or a table as a place to watch, Lyon’s 4:0 against Debrecen was called “Goal in Lyon” and then “I’ll also be really brief”, only to reel off seven slow-motion shots from just as many perspectives. Unbelievable! Who was directing that? It must have been a Martian or a football hater.
At the same time, by the way, Wolfsburg was scorned and ridiculed. “You simply have to get a better result against an opponent like that.” Unbelievable too! ManU are recognised as being in at least the top five in Europe. That the B eleven still has a high level of quality is as clear as day. It is also clear that the English, more than any other country, want to annoy Germany wherever they can. Ferguson had his tactics. Send out the hungry players. It worked. With a bit of luck. Because Wolfsburg was great, a great game with unusual drama and a slightly unfortunate outcome from a German point of view. Thanks to all the players for a great evening! Shame on the reporters!
But in the elation of the (other) successes achieved by the Germans, it got even worse: The match Standard Liege against AZ Alkmaar was also part of the conference. And there would have been a lot to mention about this match, too, in terms of exciting reporting. For Germans, it always seems to be the case that they deny any interest without their own involvement, that they don’t want to generate it and that it seems to be a tiresome torture to have to talk about such underdogs. The group constellation was such that Standard could not lose the game in order to get into the Euroleague. A thoroughly desirable goal, which is by no means achieved as a matter of course. In addition, however, there was the possibility that Arsenal would win at Olympiakos in the parallel match and thus Standard would even stay in the Champions League if they won! Arsenal also played away with the B-team, as they had long since qualified. However, as could be seen from the match report and the overlays, this B-team did anything but “lose voluntarily”. Nevertheless, Olympiakos eventually managed to make it 1-0, and despite numerous Arsenal chances, they managed to hold on for the win.
Standard also played a great game and had several chances to make it 1-0 early on. Then Alkmaar were able to free themselves a little and, as happens occasionally to often – but not according to any law accepted by the author, but following a much quoted law – take the lead themselves with the first good chance. Standard ran on for the whole second half, Alkmaar also had their few but good counter-attacking chances, a great, dramatic game. If you are interested in football. Some of the commentators couldn’t convince you of that, on the contrary. “I’m just doing my job”.
They probably once had the choice: “Shovel coal or commentate on football?” and after careful consideration — decided against the tempting job of shoveling coal. A mistake, as they find today. A very popular reporter’s slogan, to read off the torture-like torment they have to endure and which makes them recognisably regret their choice of profession: “Half an hour through…”. That’s how you used to feel in geography at school….
One miracle though: the game went into the longest injury time of any match in this conference, so the late equalising goal was actually caught. Standard’s goalkeeper had gone on the attack. There was still a standard (can you tell the joke? Standard for standard, hehe), free kick after the indicated injury time of 4 minutes had expired. It comes into the penalty area, the goalkeeper makes one of his well-trained dives, but instead of his usual defensive purpose in this scene, he actually gets to the ball with his head and the thing goes into the corner! Fantastic, such a story! He really couldn’t control himself then. He ran like a tarantula …, oh no, it could never have had such an effect even on Stich, tore off his shirt, could not possibly be caught by his teammates despite their much higher basic speed, long established in training, and shouted like King Kong, so that it could probably be heard at least as far as Brussels, even without the outside microphones, to celebrate his team’s entry into the Euroleague. Anyone who had seen it could only get goose bumps. That is what our beloved sport is all about, that is why football has captivated such legions of supporters.
But the crowning glory came in the recap. The dramatic late (un)decision was broadcast with the original Belgian commentary. This roughly reflected the emotions that must have gripped almost the entire Belgian country at that moment, an emotional outburst that captured the emotional state not only of the freaking goalkeeper. A reaction appropriate to the game scene, no, to the passion, the enthusiasm, which, even if it were not, could show so beautifully how one should commentate on a game, how beautifully one could and should be allowed to, how one can go along with it and literally pull the spectator out of his seats. A reporter’s dream, of course, in this case in the happy version that “his” team happily achieved such a late but nevertheless deserved goal.
The German announcer, when the Belgian tenor had eventually faded away, confirmed in such a sad way that the announcers in this country don’t understand anything about all this, don’t want to know anything, don’t want to and can’t radiate any enthusiasm, by saying: “Well, if you can still be so happy about getting into the Euroleague? I don’t know what Franz Beckenbauer would have said about his Bayern if they…” An unbelievable reduction in tension. No interest in emotion, suspense and drama. Profession missed, And all this just because two of the three German teams are allowed to stay in the Champions League?
Incidentally, consider this: the Sky channel’s advertising for the broadcast of the Euroleague matches is already running. “All games live”. How nice. Let them cook their rights sour. How stupid are you supposed to be when you are just told that it is such an insignificant competition that you should not be happy under any circumstances to take part in, on the contrary, you should be ashamed to look forward to it? How thick is the branch on which the man is sawing and which he is occupying at the same time? Well, no matter how thick, it should be through by now. It’s just that the case takes a little time…