Soccernet called today’s meeting of the Champions League, er, champions and the Europa League winners as the “creme de la creme” of European football.
The title is a farce. It made sense when the European Cup Winers played the Cup Winners’ Cup holder. But now the latter has been abolished and melted into some bastard tournament that also features a rank mix of Champions League losers and domestic also-rans.
Case in point: Atletico Madrid took the inaugural EL title by winning a total of three proper European games. Three.
After qualifying for the Champions League group stages, they were demoted to Europa after failing to win a single game. They managed a win before needing away goals in the next two rounds to advance. They then made it to the final after beating Liverpool on aggregate, winning the first leg and then squeaking an extra-time goal in 2-1 loss. An overtime defeat of Fulham in Hamburg made them unlikely champions of a Mickey Mouse tournament.
So Atletico entered today’s game as heavy underdogs… underlined by their ninth place finish in La Liga last season (which would not even have earned them their current berth in this season’s Europa League — a place guaranteed for the title holders) . They should have crumbled at the feet of Italy’s treble winners. Enter Rafa Benitez.
What other reason could there be for Atletico’s defeat of mighty Internazionale? The newly-installed Benitez started 10 of the 11 starters from last season’s CL final. It was a squad heavy with superstars, laden with hardware from this season’s draw ceremony. So what other excuse could there be for a dull first-half without a single shot on goal?
Rafa’s past seems to bite him in the ass. It was two former Liverpool players — Djibril Cisse and Sebastian Leto — who got the better of Inter when they played Panathinaikos in Toronto last month. Rafa has had to follow the footsteps of a bitter rival to the north of Italy when Mourniho took the helm of the Spaniard’s true’ love, Real Madrid. And tonight, it was the Spanish capital’s lesser light that got the better of Rafa’s supposed ready-made superpower. Atletico wouldn’t even allow him the consolation of a penalty, after Los Rojiblancos’s keeper made a brilliant save.
But to what end? Can Atletico now say they are the real champions of Europe? Unlikely. It’s one more of UEFA’s byzantine methods to create more games for more gate and more TV revenue, while allowing some substandard team to put a piece of silverware in the trophy case.
If this is the creme de la creme, then UEFA should kill the cow… because they are just diluting the product.