The Champions League is not plain sailing

March, 19/2021 - 07:46

Social distancing looked a thing of the past, and the crew of the victorious vessel celebrated sans face masks, hugging and swigging champagne from shared bottles on the podium. This shows that, albeit very slowly, the sporting world is finally getting back to normal.

 

MASKS OFF: Thousands of sailing supporters celebrate New Zealand winning the America's Cup. AFP/VNA Photo 

Paul Kennedy

It was great yesterday morning to watch on the television the moment New Zealand were crowned winners of the America’s Cup.

Okay, so cards on the table, I didn’t actually know what the America’s Cup really was about. I knew it was something to do with boats.

And I also don’t know any of the winning crew, or captain, or even the rules. I didn’t know who came second (apparently it was a team from Italy) and I didn’t know who won the event last year (New Zealand, by all accounts).

But what I really enjoyed, and what really made this triumph a glorious moment in sporting history, was there were thousands upon thousands of supporters lining the streets to celebrate the win.

Social distancing looked a thing of the past, and the crew of the victorious vessel celebrated sans face masks, hugging and swigging champagne from shared bottles on the podium.

This shows that, albeit very slowly, the sporting world is finally getting back to normal.

Now it has to be said that this was New Zealand, a country that, just like Việt Nam, has dealt with COVID-19 way better than the rest.

And yes, New Zealand is miles ahead of Europe when it comes to getting things back to normal, but it did give me a glimmer of hope.

Later today, the draw will be made for the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Barcelona and Juventus may not be in the hat despite being favourites when the competition got underway, but there is still the potential of a mouthwatering tie or two in the next round.

The problem for me is, just like football in general, the Champions League has lost its fizz.

It is the supporters that make this competition and I’ve been blessed to have been present at some remarkable Champions League matches.

I remember when Liverpool beat Chelsea in 2005 to get through to the final. That was a match clearly won on the night by the passion and ferocity of the home supporters.

Then two seasons ago, when again Liverpool came from behind to beat Barcelona by four goals to nil. In my mind, a victory only made possible because of the 50 odd thousand fans packed into Anfield that night.

And the same goes for the rest of the teams.

At this stage of the competition, home advantage means everything. You’d take a draw away from home, or even a narrow loss, knowing that the second leg in front of home support makes all the difference.

Instead this competition will continue in empty arenas and for me, just won’t be the same.

The final this year will be played at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul on May 29. For Liverpool fans like myself the venue is of particular significance as this was the scene of possibly the greatest ever final in the history of the competition.

In 2005, Liverpool came from three goals behind at half-time to beat AC Milan on penalties in a game they really didn’t deserve to win. It was, again, a victory made possible because of the supporters who had travelled to Turkey, and I was one of them.

I hope beyond hope that come May 29, the COVID-19 situation in Europe is contained enough to allow fans to travel.

Chances are, the way Liverpool have been playing, that it will not be them in the final, but you never know. One can only dream. VNS

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