Tuesday, May 31, 2016

UEFA Champions League final & Switzerland May 2016

A trip to Switzerland followed by the UEFA Champions League final in Milan

27th May 2016  Winterthur 0 Chiasso 0  Challenge League   3,000 (c. 15 away)

My route was from London to Zurich then a short train ride to Winterthur for this second level match.

It was the final game of the season for these two teams and a reasonable crowd turned out on a warm evening.
The Stadion Schutzenwiese is conveniently close the centre and it is worth a visit.

There is a sizeable covered terrace, two open ends and a good main stand.
The home ultras placed themselves behind one goal and the small, but keen, group of away supporters were at the other end.

Prior to the start we had a presentation to home striker Patrick Bengondo and it turned into a bit of a love-in for the Cameroonian.
Although he never got close to scoring he was clearly a big favourite and he enjoyed more acclaim as he did a lap of honour after being substituted later on.

The first half belonged to the home side with Milani and Hajrovic going closest.
Chiasso had about one serious effort.

But that pattern changed in the second period as Sergio Martin Cortelezzi wasted a number of passable chances for the visitors.
The match flowed better after the interval although it seemed to be drifting to an inevitable conclusion.

Then we had some late drama.
A long ball was misjudged by home goalie Minder (a great name for a goalkeeper !) who brought down an advancing forward.
Minder got red and the other player was carried off.

Silence from the locals who then saw home sub. Holenstein miss a great chance with the last kick of the match.
So it finished goalless.

A short walk to the station for the train back to Zurich and a nightcap in my hotel.

The next day I was on the train to Milano.
However that didn’t go too smoothly because of a track problem some way north of Bellinzona.

So much for Swiss efficiency.
Hundreds of travellers stuck in a small town waiting for buses, and no coordination with the follow-on trains.
That all meant I arrived over 2 hours late into Milano Centrale.
Still enough time but not ideal preparation for the ‘biggest club game in the world’.

On these days centres of cities are packed with fans and many others and so it was with the central station - mainly thousands of Atletico supporters thronging the magnificent surroundings.

On a very hot day it resulted in a sticky journey over to my hotel in the Ca Granda area of the city.
At least the local metro was on the same line (M5) as the San Siro.

28th May  Atletico Madrid 1 Real Madrid 1 (Real won 5-3 on penalties)  UEFA Champions League final  San Siro Milan   71,942

The new metro line makes it easier to get there and emerging and seeing those towers and that roof still has quite an impact.
Enhanced for Italia ‘90 the stadium certainly generates some atmosphere as the noise tumbles down from those steep, high ends.
However look closer and it does need an update.

But with red & white to the right and white to the left what’s not to like ?

Definitely no problem with the sound system though as Alicia Keys sang her songs, for a bit too long such that the start was delayed by about 5 minutes.

When we got going it was Los Blancos who went closest, especially the impressive Casemiro.
Oblak managed to block his effort but he was powerless to stop captain Sergio Ramos scoring from close range.
However it was subsequently judged to have been offside - a blot on the English officials.

Atletico just offered one or two Griezmann shots in an otherwise moderate 45 for Diego Simeone’s men.

But that would eventually change, and they should have been level soon after the break when Fernando Torres (otherwise fairly anonymous) was brought down in the area.
Sadly for the Atleti fans Griezmann powered his shot against the bar.

As the half progressed Real relied more on breakaways with Bale and Benzema both having chances to wrap up the game.
They spurned those chances and Atletico got the equaliser when Juanfran produced a great right wing cross and sub. Carrasco scored from close range.

So we went to extra time, with players on both sides clearly feeling the pace.
It was Real who looked more likely to break the deadlock.

But no breakthrough happened and we prepared for the drama of the penalty shootout.

It began with Sergio Ramos winning the toss and electing (obviously) to take the penalties at the Real ‘end’ of the San Siro.

We saw seven confident and decisive strikes before defender Juanfran stepped up.
He seemed to rush his effort and the connection was not pure resulting in the ball clipping the post and going wide.

That left the stage to CR7 who converted easily and celebrated wildly to give Real their 11th success.
Heartbreak for Atletico and their magnificent fans.

As it could well be the last chance for the current team (Torres, Gabi and co.) and possibly their last opportunity under coach Simeone.

Many neutrals also, no doubt, felt for the men in red & white.

It meant a very quiet return metro ride home amongst the distraught fans.

But you can’t deny the drama that unfolds in such situations.

The next morning I got back to Centrale and took the bus to Bergamo airport for the flight back to Stansted reflecting on a mega-hyped showpiece event that ends the club season in most of Europe.

Could you have an alternative ending ?

Well a replay would be out of the question given all the focus on the one night and as for another option instead of penalties - they have been around so long now & given the drama they present it would seem the only viable conclusion.

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