It was a week of mixed fortunes for English sides in European competitions as the Arsenal failed to carry the British Isles’ flag in the Uefa Champions League quarter-finals while their neighbours Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United and Chelsea qualified for the same stage of the less glamorous Uefa Europa League whose draws were taking place as we went to press.
It was always deemed to be mission impossible for the Gunners given how they were overrun at home by a flying Bayern Munich side in the first leg. While I was not necessarily surprised that they won, I must be honest that I never saw them leaving the Allianz Arena on Wednesday night with a clean sheet, but so tame were the German runaway leaders that the Gunners deserved much more than a 2-0 win.
Credit to Arsene Wenger’s men. They approached the game with resolve and confidence, but in the end, they had left themselves with too much to do and could not snatch the elusive goal that could have sealed a remarkable comeback. It was a case of history repeating itself because they went through exactly the same experience in last season’s campaign against AC Milan.
Talk of AC Milan and comebacks, did we not just witness one of the most sensational turnarounds in two-legged football ties when the Rossoneri visited the Nou Camp on Tuesday night? Leading 2-0 from the first-leg, I was among those that fancied the Italians to see the tie through even against Barcelona, believed to be one of the greatest football sides of all time.
Lending weight to this belief was the Spanish champions’ limp form going into this second-leg fixture. It was widely felt that effects of being without a manager were beginning to show and the team was losing its lustre. Their breath-taking possession football was slowly losing its penetrative edge and the side was looking clueless in the face of as well-drilled a defence as Milan would be expected to have.
Come the day, however, the anger and hunger by the Barcelona players were palpable from the off. Whatever questions they asked of Milan, the visitors had no answer and when the irrepressible Lionel Messi opened the floodgates, there was no turning back. The eventual 4-0 victory was more than deserved and we now have some mouth-watering ties ahead of us.
As it so often happens, the questions are back on which one is the best league in Europe, which is confused with the world because of the effect of television. With three Spanish sides and two German teams in the hat for the Champions League draw yesterday [Saturday], is it the choice between the two leagues or do we go to France, Italy and Turkey whose sides complete that list?
It used to be Spanish sides, but now it is the English teams that are cramming the Europa League with three sides featuring in yesterday’s draw and Rafa Benitez’s Chelsea among the favourites to go all the way. Times do change and they surely have as for the first time in 16 years, England does not appear in the quarter-final draw of Europe’s elite competition.
Meanwhile, one hopes the times have changed as well in terms of the Flames’ fortunes against the Brave Warriors of Namibia whom we are yet to beat in a competitive game. Assistant coaches Ernest Mtawali and Patrick Mabedi know this too well and I hope their boss Eddington Ng’onamo will help them achieve from the bench what they failed to attain on the pitch. That would be a great fillip going forward.