Saturday, January 5, 2013

The European Champions Cup, the crème of the crème. Two upsets at the first round – FC Zurich eliminated Glasgow Rangers and Dynamo Dresden did the same to Benfica. Yet, nothing earth-shaking – both Rangers and Benfica were ailing, the Swiss champions were rising and Dresden, if not a great team, was at lest sturdy, experienced, and fairly consistent team. Everywhere else the expected clubs won The draw played a little joke opposing Sliema Wanderers (Malta) to TPS (Turku, Finland), thus giving a chance of one outsider to go the dizzy – for such clubs – 1/8-finals. The Fins got the upper hand thanks to away goal – 1-2 and 1-0.

TPS were the easiest opponent in the second round and FC Zurich were lucky to play against them. The Swiss easily went ahead. The rest of the matches brought some interesting results: Liverpool lost the away first-leg to Trabzonspor (Turkey) 0-1. Similarly, Bayern lost in Ostrava 1-2 to the Czechoslovak champions Banik. But everything restored to normal in the second matches, both Liverpool and Bayern thrashing their daring opponents. Particularly Bayern – struggling in West Germany's championship, too old, and in need of rebuilding, Bayern definitely meant business in Europe – the old foxes still had enough skills, tricks, and determination for cup-format direct elimination challenges. So far they won 3 matches and lost one, scoring 13 goals and allowing only two in their net. Looked like yet another Bayern year coming – in deep trouble at home, the Bavarians obviously wanted to save the season with 4th straight European cup. No surprises in Munich – surprises were elsewhere: Saint Etienne eliminated PSV Eindhoven - 1-0 and 0-0. The French repeated exactly the same results from their first round matches with CSKA (Sofia). By now they were experienced, solid, more careful, and bets were on the Dutch, who were more adventurous and hungry team. But, as the previous years, Eindhoven was unable to prevail when really mattered. They were becoming one of the failed hopefuls. The real blast was delivered in Belgium: FC Brugge eliminated Real Madrid. Scoreless tie in Madrid, followed by annihilation. 2-0 is nothing but annihilation of Real, even when not very great. FC Brugge had great team, if not their best ever, at least close to that, and still rising under the cognac-fumed influence of Happel, but beating Real so categorically? Not exactly the expected outcome.

The quarter-finals produced its lucky draw as well – Dynamo Dresden vs FC Zurich. Techically, one of the two weaker teams was going to the semi-finals. May be Saint Etienne, Bayern, or FC Brugge were more deserving? Well, the deserving are those who qualify. FC Zurich qualified thanks to away goals – 2-1 in Zurich and 2-3 in Dresden. Borussia Moenchengladbach continued their progress: FC Brugge kept them at 2-2 in Dusseldorf, where Borussia played their European games, for the stadium in Moenchengladbach was too small. The Germans won the second leg 1-0 and went ahead – curiously, Borussia was more impressive as a visitor then as a host, if playing in Dusseldorf is considered home match. Saint Etienne was perhaps becoming too experienced, and thus careful, for their own good – they overcome Liverpool at home 1-0, but Anfield was bitter pill to swallow – 1-3. It was not that St. Etienne gave up, but Liverpool was fresher, hungrier, less conservative on the pitch. Not to mention that traditionally the English play successfully against the French. The real drama was not the English vs French, but Dinamo Kiev vs Bayern. There was little football, but a lot of physicality and determination. Both teams were vastly experienced, had similar philosophy – win, no matter how, and both teams had to remedy domestic seasons with international success. Both were handicapped as well – Onishtchenko and Gerd Muller were injured. Both clubs were aging and badly in need of fresh talent, which was not available... which made for tough, unpleasant to the eye duel. Bayern extracted 1-0 win at home, but Beckenbauer was worried. The match was fairly equal and the Soviets missed a few chances.

Sepp Maier saves? Or Oleg Blokhin misses? Maier was the hero of Bayern this year, which is quite telling... if the best player of mighty Bayern is the goalkeeper...

And Bayerm played mean defense and constant pressure at the second leg. Without Muller there was no one to really score – Torstensson was moved deeply back to help the defense; Rummenige was firmly placed in midfield, and Beckenbauer did not venture an attack even once. Without real bite, Bayern was doomed to fail – Dynamo managed to score 2 goals, Bayern nil. The European era of Bayern ended.
Buryak shoots and Schwarzenbeck looks... helpless. And helpless looks Beckenbauer against Konkov. Dinamo did not win easily – they missed a penalty; scored from another, and the winning goal was scored after a free kick: the massive and deadly German defense did not give many chances to rather unimaginative opposition.
The semi-finals – yet another joke of the fate: Dinamo Kiev vs Borussia Moenchengladbach. Too many Germans for the Soviets? May be it was good think after all? Well, the results were exactly the same – 1-0 and 0-2. The only difference was that this time it was not Dinamo losing by a goal and winning by two – he matches were again tough, but Dinamo struggled and on top of everything their goalkeeper Rudakov failed them in Dusseldorf. At least so was written in the Soviet press – in reality, he was a keeper of the 'shaky' kind and under pressure he often made mistakes. Bayern had no sufficient bite, but Borussia with Simonsen, Heynckes, and Bonhof was another story. There was some hope for Dinamo – after the second goal Borussia moved back and looked – from aside – tired. Dinamo put some pressure, but it was Borussia shaped by Udo Lattek, hence, skilled in defensive matters. Dinamo did not look hopeless or tired, but it was predictable team – and paid the prize for that.

In the other semi-final everything went 'normal' – the fairy-tale of FC Zurich ended, outclassed by Liverpool. The Swiss lost both legs, scoring a single goal at home, and receiving 6 – three in each match – in return.