Any recent soccer coverage (especially from that of a non-football site) must make mention of Lionel Messi. Over the past month in particular, the play of the little Argentine has suggested that he could be the greatest soccer player ever—at 22, mind you. Maradona has even said so himself (though he says a lot of things).
Saturday evening brought the big showdown: Barcelona v. Madrid, Messi v. Ronaldo, La Liga title on the line at the Bernabéu. Anticlimactic, it was. Just over half an hour, Xavi chipped the ball over the Madrid backline, and Messi, with a faint touch, converted inches of space into a clear shot on goal. 1-0.
Xavi alone dominated the match, his incisive passing again unlocking Madrid’s defense for the second from Spaniard Pedro. Real simply lacked similar creativity, though Ronaldo tried his damned best. Streaking down the left side throughout the match, Ronaldo could only muster scuffed shots from weaker left boot.
Drama, then, was saved for Sunday. Portsmouth, winners of the 2008 English FA Cup, has fallen as far as possible from their recent heights—dead last in the EPL, set to play in a lower division next season, and tens of millions of pounds in debt due to a carousel of owners promising vast investment only to jump ship before sinking in even one pence. Facing Tottenham in this year’s FA Cup semifinal, the club was also pitted against their old manager equipped with a lineup stocked full of talent raided from them in the past two years. In essence, this was Portsmouth 1st string vs. Portsmouth 2nd string, except the former had the added motivation of playing for their requisite paychecks—Portsmouth’s financial difficulties have caused some players to miss out on salaries for months.
Yet somehow, the two teams made it through the first 90 minutes deadlocked. In the 99th, a free kick into Tottenham’s box gifted a cheeky chance at goal and the lead was Portsmouth’s. And in the 117th minute, Portsmouth forward Aruna Dindane, who had to sit out for months due to a clause in his contract that would give his old team, Lens, 4 million pounds if he were to play a 22nd match, was given a penalty. Midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng, a former Tottenham player, slotted in the insurance.
In the final, Portsmouth will face EPL-leading Chelsea. Surely, they have no shot of winning, barring a miraculous display of goalkeeping from their No. 1, David “Calamity” James. But in the interests of upsets and fairy tales, just as I was about Wayne Rooney, hopefully, I’m wrong again.