by Robert Ferringo - 05/16/2006
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The World Cup has earned its billing as the Ultimate Global Competition. It is the athletic manifestation of passion that is produced by nationalism within countries and cultures everywhere. The winner not only brings home a little gold trophy, but earns one of the most powerful prizes on the planet: Pride.
But Pride doesn't pay the bills, Pride doesn't produce the bling and Pride doesn't pamper the Posh Spice's of the world.
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The UEFA Champions League final is slated for 2:45 p.m. on Wednesday. The game will feature the Spanish League champion FC Barcelona against English Premier League representative Arsenal at the Stade de France in Paris. It can be seen on ESPN2.
"This is it. This is their Super Bowl," said Anthony Burgess, a soccer savant and a key futball source. "Everyone talks about the World Cup and how it's the greatest event in the world, and it is, but you gotta remember that these guys don't get paid to play on their national teams. They get paid their millions to play for their clubs. The Champions League means everything to the players and the fans. This is what matters."
Currently, Arsenal is listed at +292 to win on Pinnacle while FC Barcelona can be had at the bargain price of -102. Pinnacle has a draw posted at +225. The goals total can be found anywhere from over 1.5 at -145 (Pinnacle) to under 2.5 at -175 (Bodog). Most books have the total at 2.0.
The suffocating defense of Arsenal and the beautiful open-field attack of Barcelona should make for a fascinating match. Barcelona has a +18 goal differential in the tournament, and Arsenal hasn't given up a goal since September. Here we have another classic title game that pits two highly skilled squads against one another: One is loaded with offensive firepower and the other is full of rough-and-tumble defenders.
Arsenal was one tray of lasagna away from not even making the Champions League tournament. Entering the final regular-season finale against West Ham, Tottenham had a shaky hold on fourth place - the final qualifying spot - in the Premier. But 10 Tottenham players came down with food poisoning before their closing match, which they lost 4-2. Arsenal took advantage, wining its last game 2-1 to sneak into the last slot.
Since their resurrection, the Gunners have ripped through the Champions League tournament, going 8-0-4. They have been harder to score on than the queen of the Puritan Pride Parade. They've given up just three goals throughout Champions League play and their scoring differential is +12.
The magical run by the Gunners is similar to that of 2005 UEFA champion Liverpool. That English club also snuck into the tournament, played a stunning stretch of football and then shocked AC Milan in the title game. Liverpool trailed by three goals at halftime but stormed back to send it to penalty kicks, which they won 3-2.
Arsenal's postseason success is the result of its devastating defense, but you still need to score. The most damaging weapon in the Gunners' arsenal is Thierry Henry. The French falcon lurks up front, and seizes most of his opportunities off quick counterattacks set up by the Arsenal fullbacks. He has 27 goals in 32 games this year, with five goals coming in nine Champions League matches.
Henry, the Arsenal captain, is returning to the city of his birth and could be playing in his final game for Arsenal. His contract is up, and rumors have been swirling for months that he has already signed a contract to play next season for - wait for it - FC Barcelona.
Now, if Henry is to join Barca next fall he could possibly be stealing the starting spot occupied by Samuel Eto'o. The Cameroon striker is currently the leading goal-scorer for FC Barcelona, tallying 25 goals in 33 games. He has registered five goals in 10 Champions League contests.
Eto'o is a stud, but FC Barcelona is led by two-time reigning FIFA World Player of the Year, Ronaldinho. Brazil's flowing-locked rocket has been causing a stir with the incredible feats he allegedly achieves in his recent Nike ads. He is a Giant in the Soccer World at the moment and keys Barcelona's free-wheeling offense.
This is the 51st European soccer championship and English clubs are 10-2 in twelve finals appearances. This is the 20th Spanish squad to appear in the title match, but they are just 10-9 in those spots. FC Barcelona is seeped in history and tradition but has won but a single UEFA championship, in 1992.
This is only the second time in 51 years that a Spanish team and an English team have met in the final. The last time was in 1981 when Liverpool drowned Real Madrid.
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