One night in Athens
The Champions League Final
Champions League final
Date: Wednesday, 23 May
Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Venue: Olympic Stadium, Athens
Wonderful sporting lineup tonight. The Champions League Final and then Red Sox at Yankees later on tonight. I think I am one of the seven people in the world who enjoy both American Sports and Soccer. It seems to me that those in the States who support Soccer have (justifiably) such a large chip on their shoulder they actually turn their back on the other major US sports. Those in Europe who love American sports often have no time for Soccer. There is not much of a population in that middle ground. Simply because of the way I grew up, between the States and Ireland, and having a sports mad brother and father, I appreciate Kaka as much as Kanoute and Beckham as much as Brady.
Tonight's Champions League final between AC Milan of Italy and Liverpool of England has a chance to be a wonderful sporting event. Perhaps it can't possibly live up to the amazing 3-3 draw and subsequent Liverpool victory on penalties though. My friend Paul sums up, over email, what most soccer pundits are suggesting;
''..one thing is certain, bar a spaceship landing during halftime filled with light sabre wielding monkeys, its not going to be as good as the 2005 final..''
Both teams are evenly matched and the two passionate sets of supporters should make for a fantastic atmosphere. If you want something a little different to the starchy, staid, reserved atmosphere at 60% of US professional sporting venues, check it out. US sports simply have nothing on Soccer when it comes to crowd participation.
In an effort to help the average American viewer enjoy tonight's showdown, here are the key players of the assumed starting lineup and their US sports star equivalent. Enjoy.
Dida (goalkeeper) - There is no doubt Dida is a talented player, however he has all the reassurance of Barry Zito (2007 version) . You simply don't know what you are going to get. He may produce a brilliant, game changing save, or he may let one in on his near post, the cardinal goalkeeping sin, as he did against Manchester United in the semi final. Same way you don't know right now if Zito is going to get shelled or throw a no-no.
Paolo Maldini (defender) - The imperious Maldini has overcome injury, self doubt (after the shocking 2005 final defeat to Liverpool) and age to be, once again, one of the greatest defenders in the world. Maldini is a winner, and he always plays with sheer class. A less injury ridden Ken Griffey Junior. A class act with immense talent.
Allesandro Nesta (defender) - Previously the best defender in the world. A great player still who has lost a step or two (or three) of pace over the years. The Teddy Bruschi of AC Milan. Both have been accused of bending the defensive rules a smidgen and one is almost as dirty as the other. Which one? I'll leave that up to you to decide. Both will do anything, literally anything, to get the ball back off attackers.
Marek Jankulovski (defender) - a defender mainly in name, Jankulovski, the Troy Brown (New England Patriots) of Milan loves to go raiding into enemy territory. Brown plays a bit of D and a bit of O but mostly O. Kinda like Janku.
Cafu (midfielder) - Jose Contreras. No one has any clue what age either are. Could be 35, could be 51.
Gennaro Gattuso (midfielder) - One of the best defenders in the world, but a man who simply can not keep his mouth shut. Constantly angers the Sports Karma Gods with his distasteful trash talking. Who am I talking about? That would be Shawne Merriman. Gattuso is as good a defender and talks trash too, but not so much.
Kaka (midfielder) - The real 'best player in the world'. Superb, gifted, game changing midfielder. Kaka is absolutely streets ahead of Manchester United's Ronaldo in nearly every department of the game, and yet Ronaldo won Fifa's World's Best Player award for 2007. Utter rubbish. Kaka is the Steve Nash of 2007.
Clarence Seedorf (midfielder) - Clarence, meet Curt. Seedorf, like Curt Schilling, has a knack of being on winning teams. Both players have won multiple titles and both players appear to be blossoming with age.
Andrea Pirlo (midfielder) - Technically gifted, very talented and clinical. Yet, strangely subdued sometimes. It's Andrea Pirlo, or, is it Dirk Nowitzki? Either way, both have ferociously ugly sneers.
Massimo Ambrosini (midfielder) - Ball winning terrier in the Gattuso mould. Biting tackle, in there to unsettle opposition. Lets go with Ray Lewis, with the exception that Ambrosini, to my knowledge, hasn't been involved in any murders in the past decade.
Reina (goalkeeper) - Before 2007 no one really knew what this player was all about. A few vital saves and some dominant displays later and Reina is now ranked amongst the top players in the world. Kind of Kansas City's pitcher Gil Meche-ish. He actually really is that good.
Jamie Carragher (defender) - About as reliable as they get, local boy turned hero for his hometown team. The Liverpool fans love him and he gives them 100% back. The great former Red Sox outfielder, Tony C without the heartbreak ending.
Daniel Agger (defender) - Young, learning fast, talented and becoming vital to Liverpool's plans. Al Jefferson of the Boston Celtics or Daniel Agger, I can't tell the difference.
Steve Finnan (defender) - Matt Damon (see below, hilarious!)
Jermaine Pennant (midfielder) - Talented, young, skillful, hasn't really delivered the goods yet, but may do just that in 2007. Le Bron James, meet Jermaine Pennant.
Steve Gerard (midfielder) - If Kobe Bryant was a local boy, if he wasn't something of a clown and the most egotistical athlete this side of Mr April, Gerard and he would be the perfect match. Gerard means everything to Liverpool, as Kobe does to the Lakers. Without him, Liverpool are basically nothing.
Javier Mascherano (midfielder) - West Ham cast Mascherano aside thinking he was not going to help them, and suddenly he is a vital cog in Liverpool's Champions League plans. How's Trot Nixon doing for Cleveland right now? If you are a Red Sox fan, and are getting tired of watching JD Drew ground out to second three times a night, you don't want to know the answer to that question.
Peter Crouch (attacker) - Yao Ming. Not quite 7'6'' but the closest man to it tonight. Plays football about as gracefully as the visual equivalent of geriatric elephant trying to tiptoe through a china shop with five lions chasing him.