Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Champions League - Barcelona 4, Milan 0: When Heart Just Isn’t Quite Enough

The combined perfect performance of Milan on the home leg as well as being 2-0 up gave all of us hope that our boys would pull off the unthinkable. Throughout the world, red and black supporters (and maybe even others) wanted us to complete the upset. Barcelona’s poor performances against Real Madrid gave us even more hope. But it was tempting fate to expect a second perfect game in a row. Barcelona left nothing to chance, playing their best game, and Milan left it all out on the pitch. Sometimes heart just isn’t quite enough.

Eleven Lions, Eleven Hearts, No Shame
I normally recap the whole game, but today I just don’t have the heart. I can tell you that the goals were like daggers… Messi scoring in the 5th and the 40th, Villa in the 55th, and Jordi Alaba sealed the deal in stoppage time. Each one killing a little more hope than the last, until my hope was only a whisper. Despite more possession today (33%) we were not able to maximize our chances like in the first leg.  All in all, we took 10 shots, with only 2 of those on goal. Niang’s shot that just hit the post in the 38th will stick in our memories. What is it about that kid that he likes those posts and crossbars? No matter. He left it all on the pitch. Just like everyone else.

Speaking of leaving it all on the pitch, Flamini’s head was split open early on, I think he just wanted to look tougher with the head bandage. Abbiati was great when called upon, the 4 goals conceded were unstoppable, and he had some big saves on the night. Abate and Constant were like machines. They didn’t care if they were playing against a Ballon d’Or winner or a little girl (to be fair, it’s sometimes hard to know the difference.) Mexes played well enough, but I thought Zapata was a beast, too.

World class team? A 20 year-old sliced opened your defense...

Our midfield, which has been our weakness all year long, especially with the 4-3-3-, was no match for players like Xavi and Iniesta. Even Ambrosini showed his age more than his experience. Montolivo was our strongest player in midfield, but one player cannot do it all. Boateng did well enough, and I thought Niang and El Shaarawy did well, the former with at least one great clearance at the other end just before the infamous shot, and the latter creating the most chances on the night.

But it wasn’t enough. This up and coming group of young players was not supposed to be a match for a solid team of world class players with salaries that are easily double what our boys make. A world class team filled with talent and experience. They came out focused and uncompromising, which proved to be lethal. In contrast, our boys were scared, but they never gave up, not even after the 4th goal, when Mexes’ attempt went wide. This is the team that weren’t even supposed to be in the Quarterfinals, and they beat Barcelona 2-0 in the first leg. That is enough for me.

The buck stops here. But cut him some slack.

Of course I wanted the win. I wanted it so bad I could taste it. (It would have tasted like the Tiramisù that I made and will now eat as comfort food… or maybe even better.) All of the correlations between this season and 2007 got my hopes up even more. But inside I always knew that to move on was beyond the scope of our collective talent, it would need faith, heart, hope, belief, and probably a stadium sized serving of luck. Unfortunately, we seem to have been using up all of our luck in the league, so… But it’s okay. Now we can truly focus on the league. We came, we played, we learned. And next year we’ll be back, with this and many more experiences under our belts.

Allegri will be disappointed in himself, as for the second year running, the one coach who seemed to have the tactics to defeat Barcelona in the Champions League came up just short. He will probably second guess himself, as a lot of Milan fans are probably doing right now. But you know what? I’m not. People have been cutting him slack all year for losing to lower table teams, saying “this is the team he has been given by management, what did you expect?” I think he should have beat those teams. But did anyone ever expect him to make it to the Round of 16 with that squad? Most people didn’t. And to play one perfect game against Barca and win? With the squad that couldn’t beat lower table Serie A teams? If ever there were a time to use the learning curve and lack of experience card and cut him some slack, it’s on this one. He gave us more than we expected, and he should be proud of what he accomplished.

Who's afraid of and 18 year-old?

It’s okay. We played with heart, we represented the Milan colors, and we came up short… this time. Don’t expect it to happen again. Our Champions League future is bright. And doing so well in the league assures us that we will have one next year, too. Our players left it all out on the pitch. And even if most of us feel like our hearts were dragged out there, too, and trampled for 90 minutes, that’s okay. Because sometimes heart just isn’t quite enough. Luckily for us, seven Champions League trophies to Barcelona’s four ensures us that this is not what will be remembered in football history. Because sometimes, even having a four-time Ballon d’Or winning player isn’t enough. Our red and black colors give us a royalty that one game can’t take away, even if it hurts today. Sometimes, when heart just isn’t quite enough, you can look at the bigger picture for solace.

This post inspired by Metallica’s “Sad But True”

Need a laugh after the loss? Check out the Milan Obsession Podcast with our own P3trarch! Half an hour of musings and laughter should ease the pain!

Our next match is
Milan vs. Palermo
Sunday, March 17 • 15:00 CET (10am EDT)