A brief disclaimer. This is a work of memory, it is my best recollections of two particular games I had the good fortune to attend. Therefore I cannot guarantee the full accuracy of this due to the nature of memory. It is simply my own remembrances of these games as best I can. The first of the two games occurred on July 9th 2006 in Berlin, Germany (so almost a decade ago) and the second game occurred on May 28th 2011 at Wembley Stadium in London, England. The former game was at the international level, the latter at the club level.
I will admit that I am not the biggest soccer fan out there. Despite being a big sports fan and well versed in the rules of at least half a dozen sports I normally don’t think of soccer as much as other sports. However when the biggest games come around I will tune into soccer and follow just out of general curiosity. This is highlighted by the World Cup, in particular the World Cup final. I can remember at least where I was and that I watched the games for every World Cup final in my lifetime with the exception of the 1994 final. Almost all of these games were watched in England, with one exception, the 2006 World Cup final between Italy and France in Berlin. This is the first of the two aforementioned games.
I was only 13 years old and had just finished middle school in England (high school starts in 8th grade there). I had the opportunity to attend the World Cup final with my family and took it. My memories of the game itself are hazy but they are still there. From the start I wanted the French team to win, despite my preference for Italian culture, history, cuisine and culture. This is because I prefer French soccer to Italian soccer and I wanted France to get its second title so that England remained the only team with one title thus last on the winners list. The game started out good for me. France got a penalty and Zidane converted it. I recall being pleased with this and hoping that France could hold the lead. Alas that was not to last. Shortly afterwards, although I cannot remember how long other than it was in the first half, Italy equalized. It was a good goal from what I remember but that’s all I remember. I can’t recall who the Italian player was other than that his surname began with M. I wouldn’t know at the time but this would be the last regular time goal in a World Cup final to date. After Italy equalized the game was pretty routine for the current period of soccer. It was a highly defensive and tactical game. One thing I do recall from regular time was the worst dive I have ever seen (admittedly not many). I can’t remember the precise series of events but if my memory is correct a French player fouled an Italian and when the referee came over the French player, who was still on the ground, grabbed his arm as if in pain. Naturally he received a yellow card for it. By the end of regulation it was a 1-1 tie, therefore it was time for another 30 minutes of soccer.
The game continued in it’s defensive and tactical way through extra time but it was in extra time that the biggest moment of the game, one of the biggest in World Cup final history, happened. Honestly I never saw the headbutt. It occurred at the other end at the pitch from play. All I remember was that suddenly there was an uproar in the stadium and Zidane was getting a straight red card for a foul on the other goalscorer of the game. After I found out what transpired I was shocked that anyone would do that in a game, let alone the final of the World Cup. In my opinion this was one of the reasons why the French side lost on penalties.
Once the game reached penalties and without Zidane I knew that the Italians had the game, despite not playing as well as the French. The penalties were a simple affair. The Italians converted all their opportunities and the French missed one, thus giving the title to Italy. I was upset when the Italians became the second country in World Cup history to claim at least 4 titles. Oh well it was still a good game to go to but in terms of style the other game I am recalling was superior, although that might be because I was 18 at the time of the game so my memory and knowledge of soccer was better by then. That game was the 2011 UEFA Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester United.
My senior year of High School was drawing to a close and I was preparing for my gap year before going to college somewhere in America. Me and a bunch of friends from my dorm and year were going. Half of them were Man U fans and really excited about the prospect of watching the dominant team in England at the time win another Champions League title and do so on English soil. Naturally I wanted Barcelona to win. All the Man U fans were wearing freshly purchased team shirts for the game, I was showing my support by wearing a very distinctive Ed Hardy sweatshirt.
For the first half of the game the teams were pretty evenly matched, offensively and defensively. Barcelona started out the scoring but Rooney quickly equalized for Man U. However despite this apparent evenness between the teams was misleading after watching the styles of the two teams. Barcelona played like a team, a well oiled machine that worked together in harmony, they style lived up to the title of “the beautiful game” that people refer to soccer as. Man U on the other hand didn’t play like that. It was a shame to see a team coached by the longest tenured manager in the Premier League and one of the best all time in English club soccer history, Sir Alex Ferguson, look so shabby. Rooney and Park Ji-sung were the only two Man U players I could see that were actually playing good soccer and they were acting like individuals not a team. There was no cohesion among the players. I distinctly remember that Hernandez was constantly being caught offside throughout the game. These styles progressed into the second half and Man U just couldn’t maintain it against the fluidity of Barcelona.
This difference in style lead the the dominance of Barcelona in the second half. The dysfunction of Man U just couldn’t contain Barcelona. I remember Messi’s goal very distinctively as a clear example of a true team goal that was well orchestrated and executed and gave Barcelona a 2-1 lead. Barcelona would add a 3rd goal a little while later but by that point the game was over by that point, there was no way I could see Man U recovering from the deficit. Barcelona’s victory was pleasing to me, highlighting how playing as a team and not a group of individuals is the way to play true soccer.