Fort Worth, TX (PRWEB) May 17, 2006
There’s no question that the World Cup is the premier event in soccer. But you’re not going to find too many matchups more impressive than Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League final between Arsenal and Barcelona. http://www.eog.com/news/index.aspx?id=1479
The Gunners ended their English Premiership season on a high note, bidding Highbury farewell with a convincing 4-2 win over Wigan to vault over Tottenham into fourth place on the EPL table. That guarantees Arsenal a return to the Champions League for next season. The Spurs can still get in through the back door if the Gunners beat Barca on Wednesday; that’s how fifth-place Liverpool was able to join the League (and go on to win the title) last year.
Arsenal hasn’t lost a game since dropping a 2-0 decision to Manchester United back on Apr. 9. The 10-time FA Cup champions have five wins and three draws since then, but it took a miraculous last-minute penalty save by Jens Lehmann to earn the Gunners a 0-0 tie with Villareal on Apr. 25. Lehmann’s heroics were good enough to send Arsenal to its first-ever Champions League final, 1-0 on aggregate. That wasn’t terribly convincing to the linemakers, who have the Gunners listed as +275 underdogs to win Wednesday’s final at the Stade de France in Paris. Barcelona is even money, with a draw pegged at +200.
Barca is on an even bigger roll than its English counterparts. The Catalan sensations haven’t dropped a decision since Mar. 12, when Osasuna picked up a 2-1 La Liga victory as 31-9 underdogs. Barcelona has eight wins and five draws since then, putting away AC Milan 1-0 on aggregate in the Champions League semis. That level of play is just par for the course for the 1992 League champions. Barca recently clinched its 18th Spanish title and second in a row; the club is entrenched in first place in La Liga with 25 wins, nine draws and just four losses.
Barcelona’s roster looks like a Who’s Who of the World Cup. The exquisite Brazilian midfielder Ronaldinho (you may recognize him from his recent Joga Bonito Nike commercial) leads the way, with ample help from Swedish forward Henrik Larsson and striker Samuel Eto’o from Cameroon. Barca also boasts the likes of Portugese midfielder Deco and French forward Ludovic Giuly. However, there may be at least one chink in Barca’s armor at Paris. Forward Lionel Messi from Argentina, the man they call “the new Diego Maradona,” remains doubtful for Wednesday after tearing a thigh muscle back in March against Chelsea.
The 18-year-old Messi wasn’t even born yet when Maradona scored his famous “Hand of God” goal against England at the 1986 World Cup. But the comparisons to the FIFA Player of the Century are well-earned. Messi won the Golden Boot playing for the Argentina U-20 team that won last year’s prestigious Football World Youth Championships. He and Ronaldinho have established a dynamic relationship on the pitch, enough to convince Barcelona to sign Messi to a contract extension through 2014 with an imposing buyout clause worth 150 million euros, or over US$194 million.
One of the more compelling subtexts for Wednesday’s matchup is the possibility that Arsenal star Thierry Henry could suit up for Barcelona next year. The brilliant French forward and team captain wrapped up the EPL season with a hat trick against Wigan to claim top spot in the Actim Player Rankings with a 7.34 index score, edging out Chelsea’s Frank Lampard. But before the start of the second half during that 0-0 draw with Villareal, a fan ran onto the pitch and draped a Barcelona shirt over Henry’s shoulders. On the back of the shirt: “Henry 14.”
“I saw the incident, yes,” Barca fullback and former Henry teammate Gio Van Bronckhorst told reporters. “There has been a lot of speculation about him coming and he is very popular. He is a great player and I would love him to come here, as you always want the best players in your team, but we will have to wait and see.”
Robert Pires is also unsure about his future with Arsenal after Wednesday’s final. The French winger is looking for a two-year deal from the Gunners, who have thus far only offered a one-year extension for the 33-year-old. Defender Ashley Cole, the erstwhile left back for the English national side, is also rumored to be on the move, possibly to Barcelona with Henry. Wednesday could very well be the end of Arsenal as we know it.
Things kick off at Stade de France at 2:45 p.m. Eastern Time.
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