Friday, February 15, 2008

Uefa Cup Round Up

Yes, I know. It's not the glamour European event. But for the teams still in the tournament, it's pretty important. The UEFA Cup played the first leg of Round of 32 knockout matches this week. Most of the matches were played close to the vest, as is often the case in knockout phases. Still, there were some surprising scorelines, including one hell of a match played in northern Scotland.

A couple of teams more or less wrapped up their ties with resounding victories. Everton took a 0-2 away result against Norwegian side SK Brann Bergen. Werder Bremen ran Sporting Braga off the pitch 3-0, and Olympique Marseille did the same to Spartak Moscow. Sporting Lisbon defeated FC Basel 2-0 at home, while Fiorentina, Hamburg SV and Tottenham all took decisive away wins, beating Rosenborg, Zurich and Slavia Prague, respectively.

Other winners of home ties include Zenit St. Petersburg 1-0 over Villareal, Anderlecht 2-1 over Bordeaux, Bolton sliding past Atletico Madrid 1-0 and Benfica defeating Nurnberg by the same score. First leg draws were had by Galatsaray and Bayer Leverkusen 0-0, AEK Athens and Getafe 1-1, Rangers and Panathinaikos 0-0 as well as Aberdeen and Bayern playing to a 2-2 draw.

Alright, I've held out long enough. Now I'm going to talk about what I came here to talk about, Aberdeen's amazing match against the Bundesliga leaders. As you may recall, I was a little squirrelly going into the match. I held no real illusions that a banged-up Aberdeen squad could hold their own against an equally hurt Bayern. Boy was I wrong.

Aberdeen took it to the German giants from the first whistle. Aberdeen could have had a penalty in the first minute, as Ottl headed onto his own arm in the box while trying to clear. It wasn't intentional, but it did control the ball in a dangerous situation. The rest of the initial quarter hour saw Aberdeen play some quick one and two touch ball, unafraid of their much more fancied opponents.

Around the 15 minute mark, Bayern started to put their stamp on the game. Aberdeen was consistently pinned back in their own half, and certainly not helped by keeper Jamie Langfield's sudden inability to clear out of his own half. Aberdeen resorted to playing long balls up the pitch, hoping to catch out an out of sorts Bayern back line. Aberdeen did catch them out, but it wasn't from a hit and hope effort.

In the 24th minute, some quick linkup play on the right side of midfield saw Aberdeen streaming forward in numbers. After a soft shot was headed back out by Aberdeen, Sone Aluko controlled and passed out to Josh Walker. Walker curled the shot home from 24 yards, and I screamed so loud at my computer that my 7-month-old son started crying. I barely had time to console him before Luca Toni nodded a ball off to Miroslav Klose who made no mistake from 6 yards out. 1-1 in the 29th minute.

Bayern looked the most likely to take the lead over the next 10 minutes, with one point blank effort being scuttled over the bar by Klose. Aberdeen were on their heels and just waiting for halftime.

Or so I thought. In the 41st minute, Sone Aluko ran onto a Lee Miller flick on, deked a defender at the top of the box and scored easily. Aluko almost had a shot at another a minute later. He nutmegged Lucio, but seemed to be playing for the foul. By the time Aluko caught up to the ball, he was barely caught by a covering defender, otherwise he would have been in alone with the keeper again.

Halftime meant I had to leave my stream of the match and go through the rest of the day unaware of the result. When I got home, I feared for the worst. I figured a 3 or 4 goal German onslaught would have sealed the game. I fired up my computer to see that no such thing had happened. Other than Hamit Altintop following up his missed penalty kick and bundling it into the net, there was no other scoring. I will say this about the penalty, no matter what the Aberdeen site tries to say about the call, it was a definite penalty, and a stronger claim than the one Aberdeen had in the first minute. Maybury's arm was extended and it did stop a dangerous cross in the box. Unlucky, yes, but not a poor call.

One of my blogmates asked if this was a big upset, so I'll try to put it into general football terms. This scoreline is not as shocking as, say, Havant & Waterlooville twice leading Liverpool at Anfield. I'd put it more like a First Division club drawing Manchester United or Arsenal. There is a huge gulf in talent and money between the clubs, so the 2-1 halftime lead and even the 2-2 final are big deals. As I said yesterday, Bayern is full of international players, whereas even the Scots on Aberdeen don't sniff the Scotland squad. Aberdeen's two goal scorers were 18-year-olds on loan from lower rung Premiership squads. Even as a fan, I would not have expected this result and it leaves me buoyant and proud to wear my Aberdeen shirt today.

All happiness aside, reality comes back next week. The return leg is on February 21 in Munich. A 2-2 home result is tantamount to a loss when it comes to knockout stages. Aberdeen need a win in Munich, and as Bigus pointed out in yesterday's comments, that's not too likely for a British team to pull off.

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