Category Archives: Soccer

“J.Hill’s Satanic Reign!”: Football and Indie Music, Ted and Alice

This is something I have just written for a music fanzine to go alongside a night I help with at Manchester’s very own Star and Garter. I thought I may as well pop it up on here for anyone else to read as well – David.

In the last issue of When Saturday Comes, the magazine that is perhaps the footballing equivalent to Private Eye, one particular piece caught my attention.

The Performing Rights Society have published a chart of the most popular football songs played on the nation’s jukeboxes, with the ‘respectables’ such as Pavarotti’s ‘Nessum Dorma’ and New Order’s ‘World in Motion’ riding high alongside monstrosities such as the other Keith Allen inspired football song, ‘Vindaloo’, and DJ Otzi’s ‘Hey Baby (Unofficial World Cup Remix)’.

The chart led to an unflattering judgment from the writer, David Stubbs: “There is nothing wrong with football. Nothing wrong with song. However, like ice cream and gravy, the two should never be conjoined.”

This is a deflating and rather misguided view. The ‘indie football song’, from the 80s to the present-day, has given critiques of the game and offered an education for the uninitiated; has presented opportunities for social comment, and perhaps the most important thing of all, chances to chuckle to yourself while listening to them on the bus.

One example is The Fall’s ‘Kicker Conspiracy’, released by Rough Trade in 1983 and signalling a poppier side to their sound, as well as sporting a sleeve of a violent fan directing his foot to someone else’s knee.

It was written when violence in the terraces was rife, and still holds an eerie degree of insight, with Mark E. Smith’s warning of “FANS! Remember! You are abroad!” failing to be acknowledged. Two years later at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels, rioting Liverpool fans charged at Juventus fans before the kick-off of the 1985 European Cup final, forcing a wall to collapse, and causing mass panic.

Thirty-nine people were killed through being crushed by the collapsing wall or by being trampled upon in the impending stampede, and English sides were banned from European competitions for five years. It later transpired, however, that the inadequacies of the stadium and the authorities could also have been partly to blame.

The song also contains your usual Smithisms, particularly with the line “J. Hill’s satanic reign!”, which again contains a huge amount of insight on Smith’s part. His belief – as documented in his recent autobiography Renegade: The Lives and Tales of Mark E. Smith – that he can see into the future and be a “bringer of bad news”, may not be as far-fetched as once thought.

“J. Hill” is of course Jimmy Hill, the former head of the Players’ Union who campaigned for uncapped wages (yes, it’s partially his fault that the top players now get £50k+ a week); an early figurehead who envisaged the power television could hold over the game; and overall irritating prick with that huge chin, who David Baddiel and Rob Newman took the piss out of on The Mary Whitehouse Experience.

Birkenhead’s Half Man Half Biscuit are another case of football and song coming together well. A friend of mine recently said that everything she knew about the game came from listening to HMHB – it’s definitely nothing to be ashamed of, since it’s the best education an indie music listening, non-football fan could possibly receive.

HMHB’s most noted football song is ‘All I Want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit’, released in 1986 as a B-side to their debut single, ‘The Trumpton Riots’. It has made the Czech European Cup semi-finalists from 1967 famous to HMHB fans and beyond.

‘All I Want…’ is arguably a song of pre and post-adolescent disappointment, written by the typically dry Nigel Blackwell. The spoilt child with a Scalextric set who thinks he’s better than the other kids; the kid who has an uncle that runs a sports shop who kept a Dukla Prague away kit to one side for him; the sod whose Subbuteo rules you have to abide by before he goes crying to his mum; the git who, years later, is handing out the dole payments.

It makes you laugh because you can empathise being around the spoilt child aged seven or eight, but it makes you angry because the one who’s had it on a plate is making his way in the world.

In a period where nepotism and selfishness were also the results of Thatcherism, this football-based tune has arguably become an example of social comment. Like all HMHB songs, while the esoteric references are there, the meaning of the song doesn’t seem to get lost.

Finally, a song that brings together the blunt edge of The Fall and the dry humour of HMHB is Luke Haines’ ‘Leeds United’ off the self-titled EP released in 2007.

With HMHB-like references to World of Sport, Haines presents football violence as a form of carefree enjoyment and escapism from domesticity against the backdrop of the Yorkshire Ripper, with his of his thirteen victims compared to a single goal: “It’s a 13-0 defeat on the front page of the Post…I was beaten we were gutted I was sick as a parrot…Propping up the bar World Of Sport then fixing the car, you’re on a mission from God, it’s what the weekend’s all about.”

So, while the fusion of football and song can be disastrous, they can also complement each other, like the time bookmaker Fred Done paid out early on bets for Manchester United to win the League in the 1997/98 season… only for Arsenal to end up doing so.

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Filed under features, Football, half man half biscuit, indie music, jimmy hill, luke haines, mark e smith, music, Soccer, Sport, the fall

Match Report: Portugal 2-3 Germany

UEFA Euro 2008

Quarter-Final

Basel

Att: 42,000

Portugal 2-3 Germany

A tired maxim, but an important one: never write off the Germans. Once again, they prove that when it comes to clinical finishing and efficient, sharp use of possession, they are still the kaisers. After two poor performances, the Germans once again look like the favourites they were labelled as before the tournament.

Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose looked accomplished and dangerous alongside one another; Michael Ballack, improving more with every game and surely an early candidate for player of the tournament, controlled the centre of midfield with a delightful arrogance.

For Portugal, it’s a typical outcome: mercurial, thrilling and disgustingly talented, but wasteful and disorganised. It’s a disappointing exeunt from international football for Luis Felipe Scolari, who will now make the transition to Chelsea where many of his Portuguese stars, and Ballack, now take residence.

Portugal started off the better side, with Simão’s creativity going forward and Bosingwa’s pace proving troublesome on the right-hand side against Germany’s Philipp Lahm. If it weren’t for an ineffective Nuno Gomes, Portugal should have been a goal up after eleven minutes, after a teasing low ball from Bosingwa failed to be capitalised upon. Moments later, João Moutinho spurned a sitter in front of goal from a Bosingwa corner.

Then, after twenty-two minutes, a move of absolute excellence, with Ballack at its centre.

Klose passed to Ballack, and then a succession of one-touch passes between Ballack and Podolski resulted in a beautifully weighted ball from Podolski, and an unmarked Bastian Schweinsteiger waiting in the eight-yard area. A goal of the highest quality, and certainly up there with the two fine counter-attacking goals scored by Holland against the Azzurri.

Four minutes later, and the Germans were two up thanks to some woeful Portuguese defending. With Ricardo Carvalho nowhere to be seen, Klose rose and headed in unmarked, leaving Cristiano Ronaldo wondering who was meant to be marking the 2006 World Cup Golden Boot winner.

By now, Germany were in complete control of the midfield; but Portugal still threatened when going forward, and Ronaldo managed to put his side back in the game before half-time with his cross-angle run into the area and eventual shot rebounding for Nuno Gomes to finish. Ronaldo then almost equalised for Portugal minutes later, with a shot that just crept past Jens Lehmann’s left-post.

Portugal came out the better side after half-time, with Ronaldo becoming more of a threat. With a questionable spot of gamesmanship by Arne Friedrich, in which he intentionally stood on Ronaldo’s foot after a strong challenge, it was clear to see the threat he was now beginning to pose.

But that was wiped away thanks to some erratic goalkeeping by Ricardo. Ballack, who looked to have pushed his club team-mate Paulo Ferriera to gain an advantage, was there to header in from a Schweinsteiger free-kick that Ricardo failed to deal with.

Scolari later threw on Nani, who consistently threw possession away with thirty-yard efforts and misguided passes — apart from the one moment he actually used his eyes. With Helder Postiga also thrown on, Nani picked him out perfectly with three minutes remaining.

Yet by now, it was too late. Portugal and the world now awaits the talk of where Ronaldo will end up to re-emerge in earnest; while Germany expects once again, with Ballack — perhaps the best leader the Germans have had since a circa. Italia ’90 Lothar Matthaus — only growing in confidence.

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Filed under cristiano ronaldo, Football, germany, Match Report, michael ballack, portugal, Soccer, Sport, UEFA, uefa euro 2008

Match Report: Italy 2-0 France

UEFA Euro 2008

Group Stage: Group C

Zurich

Att: 25,000

Italy 20 France

Ten years’ ago this month, France were World Champions. Two years’ ago, France almost became World Champions once again. But after this defeat against an Italian side that is finally showing some promise, and to refer to Domenech’s much-discussed star-gazing, France is in the midst of a supernova.

Not only is this supernova illustrated by France’s early departure, but also in the players that signify this so-called golden era. Thierry Henry is worryingly short of any threat compared to his Arsenal days; Nicolas Anelka was an irrelevance, coming on as a substitute when Domenech ran out of ideas; Lilian Thuram refused to play because of a supposed bout of nerves; and William Gallas was ineffective and reverting to his volatile state, at one point on the verge of tears.

France’s challenge effectively ended after eight minutes when Franck Ribery, the man who is constantly referred to as the next Zidane — the link between the golden-era and the new, uncertain one — went off with an injured Achilles. The pain etched on his face was likely mimicked by every French man.

Within twenty minutes, Luca Toni could have single-handedly embarrassed the French; instead, it was more the opposite. Opportunities provided by Simone Perrotta and Andrea Pirlo on several occasions weren’t taken, and Toni’s indifferent form will be a real worry for Roberto Donadoni. Toni is in danger of becoming Italy’s equivalent to Andrew Cole: lethal at domestic level, unconvincing at international level.

Still, Toni’s persistence managed to come through after twenty-five minutes thanks to some French assistance in the form of Eric Abidal. After three attempts in getting the ball, Abidal brings Toni down in the penalty area, and France are a goal and a man down thanks to a superior Andrea Pirlo penalty. It was all either side deserved.

The unfortunate Samir Nasri, a transfer target for Arsene Wenger and brought on to replace the injured Ribery, was then taken off after a mere fifteen minutes in a desperate attempt from Domenech to bring some stability to his unstable back four. Yet it also shows how at odds the French were as a whole — needing a win, yet bringing off a talented, attacking player.

Karim Benzema was the stand out player for the French and when going forward, gave a still uncertain Italian defence something to handle. Benzema drew players towards him and left gaps that Henry seldom exploited; and when the French came out for the second half, he spurred the side on which almost caught the lackadaisical Italians who defended dangerously deep on several occasions.

Benzema’s efforts, however, would prove insignificant when on sixty-two minutes, Henry made his only noteworthy contribution. A Daniele de Rossi free-kick deflected goalward off Henry’s flailing left-foot, leaving Gregory Coupet with no chance.

It was only after de Rossi’s strike that Domenech decided to switch to three attackers and eventually bring on Anelka — the lack of any verve or enthusiasm, Benzema aside, was stunning. Indeed, Benzema almost gave the French some hope with a finely struck curling effort that required the best from Gianluigi Buffon.

The Italians’ tournament may have finally begun, and it would be foolish to dismiss them. But with Gennardo Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo suspended for their quarter-final against a ruthless Spanish side, they’re up against it. Even so, these are the Italians.

For France, who reportedly have Didier Deschamps waiting to take over from Domenech, they have a huge black hole to fill (enough of the astronomy terms now…).

David.

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Euro 2008: Preview! – THE GROUP OF DEATH

There’s a football tournament starting on Saturday, you know.

Yes, behind the new of Mark Hughes’ appointment at Manchester City; England’s act of diplomacy in travelling to Trinidad & Tobago being acknowledged as an official ‘A’ game; and Cristiano Ronaldo now looking to be on his way to Real Madrid, Austria and Switzerland are preparing themselves to be the focal points of European football for the next month.

Euro 2008 is almost here, and England’s football fans are trying to adopt a team — or forget it’s on.

Can Greece retain the title they somehow won four years’ ago? Will Spain, the underachievers of all underachievers, finally break their duck? And Austria, with the likes of New Zealand, Omen and Zimbabwe ranked above them in the FIFA World Rankings, manage to get a single point from their group?

Here on The Sight is in End, we’ll try and keep you up to date with match reports and other bits of hastily written nonsense that attempt to be humorous in some way. But for now, let us try and offer some sort of preview for you. Here’s Part 1 of 2, with the second part following…well, before Saturday.

As you’ll obviously know, the tournament is divided into four groups that were drawn in December in Lucerne, Switzerland. It raised laughter caused by anticipation and groans triggered by disappointment; yet it has yielded some potentially thrilling and memorable encounters:

Group A – Basel and Geneva: Czech Republic; Portugal; Switzerland; Turkey

Group B – Vienna and Klagenfurt: Austria; Croatia; Germany; Poland

Group C – Zurich and Bern: France; Italy; Netherlands; Romania

Group D – Innsbruck and Salzburg: Greece; Russia; Spain; Sweden

Let’s concentrate on the group that will be played out in the Swiss cities of Zurich and Bern. Group C is this tournament’s GROUP OF DEATH:

Group of Death: A regular visitor to the language of football, this nice piece of hyperbole appears whenever World Cup draws are made, but can make an intermediate appearance at European Championships or other regional tournaments, too. It is so familiar that commentators promptly debate which of the groups drawn might be the Group of Death this time round, as though it were a title which has to be assigned to one of them: ‘Cameroon, Egypt, the Ivory Coast, Libya, Sudan and Benin – Group Three certainly looks like the Group of Death in the African Zonal Qualifying.’

(Leigh and Woodhouse, Football Lexicon, p.56).

One of the possible favourites is set to go out alongside Romania (or am I too quick to judge, there? After all, they finished ahead of the Dutch in qualifying…). The beauty of it is that it’s almost impossible to predict who else will fall first.

Italy are now without Fabio Cannavaro after suffering an ankle injury during training — a major blow for the World Champions, especially with the strike-power France and the Netherlands possess. However, with the likes of Gennaro Gattuso, Andrea Pirlo and Luca Toni present, it’s difficult to cast aside the Azzurri.

The presence of Gattuso in the centre of midfield always bolsters the Italians, with his physical presence bringing with it the arrogance and confidence the Italians thrive upon. He is their key player, and should ensure they see their way through the group. He’ll probably snarl the Italians through the group if he has to.

Still, they stuttered their way through their qualifying group (remember that evening at Hampden Park?), and with the managerial novice in Roberto Donadoni, it will be interesting to see how he copes with the pressures of a major tournament.

After the furore Donadoni caused with the omission of Alessandro Del Piero from the squad that faced Spain in a friendly (sorry, I’ve gone mad with the colours here, haven’t I?), the pressure is on for his side to live up to the expectations of the Italian public: domestically, Italian football is still recovering from the Calciopolis affair, and the way to recover is seemingly through the national side.

France have a mixture of the precociously talented and the hugely experienced (perhaps too experienced…). Luca Toni’s team-mate at Bayern Munich in Franck Ribery, labelled as the next Zidane, will probably be the main creative threat for France alongside Thierry Henry. He offered moments of brilliance two years’ ago in Germany and after a stunning debut season over there, is already a possibility for player of the tournament. Presumptive, I know. We’ll see.

Up front, Les Bleus are almost spoilt for choice with Henry, Lyon’s Karim Benzema and Sidney Govou and Nicolas Anelka all giving Raymond Domenech a selection dilemma. Even so, judging Anelka’s form at Chelsea, it’s likely Henry and Benzema will start together with Govou possibly completing a three-line attack.

But their qualification was even more laboured than Italy‘s, finishing just two points ahead of the Scots. And with the likes of Claude Makelele and Lilian Thuram at the wrong end of thirty, their age could either provide much needed experience and strength or a degree of frailty: for these two, it’s set to be their final outing in a major international tournament.

On paper, the Netherlands look pretty frightening: Arjen Robben, Ruud van Nistlerooy, Klass-Jan Huntelaar, Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder. Were Ryan Babel fit, any uncertainty about the Dutch attack being frightening would be erased.

The experience of captain Edwin van der Sar will also prove vital as it did for Manchester United this season, especially with Marco van Basten’s adoption, attacking football — which is where the main weakness lies.

Van Basten, in his final outing as Dutch manager, will hope his side plays the football that will allow him to be remembered in a similar light to that of the great architect of Total Football, Rinus Michels. It could be a mode of football that tears apart an uncertain Italian defence minus Cannavaro but with a volatile Marco Matarazzi and a fading Gianluca Zambrotta; and a French back four with an aging Thuram and an unpredictable William Gallas.

But it could so easily go the other way, with a defence that looks ominously shaky: Giovanni van Bronckhorst has seen better days, and Wigan’s Mario Melchiot could turn out to be a first choice defender. This could be oranje’s undoing, but it sure does make them kurious. Fall fans will hopefully get that.

Romania. Adrian Mutu and Christian Chivu aside, it would take a feat of Grecian proportions to get out of the group. Yet top of their qualifying group? A reformed Adrian Mutu in the form of his life? It seems premature to write the Romanians off completely. They re-hired Victor Piturca — the man who took them to Euro 2000 and knocked out England — and qualified with two games to spare. The performances against the Dutch cannot be ignored, and we all recall what can happen when the French underestimate sides. Could it happen?

The side I have written least about, could have the biggest say of the lot. This GROUP OF DEATH easily makes up for England’s failure. Unmissable.

Part 2 will follow shortly.

David.

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Filed under Austria, Football, France, Italy, Netherlands, Romania, Soccer, Sport, Switzerland, uefa euro 2008

UEFA Cup Final Build-Up: Pictures from Manchester (or how silly this post now seems…)

This post, covering the build-up to the UEFA Cup Final, came before all the bottles were thrown, a lot of windows were smashed and police officers were kicked and punched. Some of these pictures have now taken on a dark (yet, perhaps, darkly comic…) irony. I must say that on experiencing the atmosphere yesterday afternoon, it was a joy — thrilling, exhilarating, in fact. It was jovial, affable, and trouble that occurred later on didn’t seem that likely.

Still, when you’ve got tens of thousands of litres of alcohol, being served since 10am, seeping through the veins of almost 200,000 people (I wondered whether the 100k estimate was actually rather conservative), it seemed kind of inevitable that something would happen. The failure of the big screen in Piccadilly Gardens seemed to act as a trigger, although speculation doesn’t really help.

Manchester, from 1.30pm to 5.00pm

If Manchester was ‘mad’ in the late eighties and early nineties, then I have no idea what it could be described as today. The city’s unrecognisable — a sight of constant blue.

In excess of 100,000 Rangers fans (and a few Russians…) are readying themselves for tonight’s UEFA Cup final at the City of Manchester Stadium, with Rangers hoping to win their first European trophy since the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1972.

For Zenit, with former Rangers manager Dick Advocaat at the helm, this is their first outing in a European final after dismantling a Bayern Munich side that is arguably the best since the likes of Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Gerd Muller played together in the late seventies. On that fact alone, Zenit have to be considered favourites.

I couldn’t resist having a look, camera in hand, at what the atmosphere was like. Currently, Manchester is a proud, memorable image of fans savouring a European final.

If you wish to use any of these photos on your website or if you have any enquiries, then please email thesightisinend@googlemail.comthanks!

David.

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Ah! That’s Champion(ship / League, but only the latter part)!

Apologies for the use of the first person throughout this post, but something has been niggling at me.

I felt a little ashamed in being a Manchester United fan yesterday afternoon. While sat next to an avid Stoke fan, it made me realise that the Premier League is severely lacking in one, important aspect that makes football the game that endears so many – spontaneity.

The Championship’s denouement was one of those special afternoons in football. It left you lost, perplexed, and yet, you didn’t care – clarity wasn’t necessary. You just went along with the journey, wondering where you would end up at the end. For the neutral, there’s no finer feeling (it is maybe why the play-offs tend to be the best games all season); for the Stoke, Leicester and Southampton fans, it was perhaps of a sort of masochistic torture.

Ever since that momentous FA Cup quarter-final between Barnsley and Chelsea, Mick McCarthy’s comments in the post-match analysis have stuck with me. Fans of Barnsley have experienced Premier League football, relegation, more relegation, promotion, and now the FA Cup in the space of ten years.

Excitement and despair, those two feelings so closely aligned with one another, consistently experienced by Barnsley fans. As he put it, it’s exciting to be a Barnsley fan, because the spontaneity is always there.

This is not the case with the Premier League, with one of the top four guaranteed to win the division and claim those Champions League spots. Supporting a team like United means that the result is almost predictable week-in, week-out.

When the unpredictable does happen, it’s almost treated with distain by some United fans; the prospect of losing means that everything they’ve bought into has been demolished completely – like losing does not happen for those supporting what is once again the richest club in the world. Well it does, and at times (and dare I say it), it’s a refreshing change.

This is why as a United fan, I live for the Champions League more than the Premier League;  for a start, the Premier League doesn’t force me into a nervous, drunken stupor like last Tuesday. My appetite for the European Cup isn’t just in terms of the history United have with ol’ Big Ears, but because it’s where that sense of unpredictability is most likely to be (in the latter rounds, anyway; the group stage feels like an irrelevance at times). The quest for another European Cup is what feeds me more than another  almost-certain Premier League title.

However, today’s game between Newcastle and Chelsea is intriguing: Newcastle, the masters of spontaneity within the Premier League over the last two decades, could unexpectedly hand the title to United if they beat Chelsea this afternoon; yet a Chelsea win will make next Sunday a day of relevance, even if it may be only slight. I’m not sure which one I want.

Even so, it’s very easy for me to write the above – I know that all too well. But I guess there is something that United for once lack, which most other clubs at least have. Perhaps this is why I’ve gone to a lot of Stockport County games this season.

God, I’m confused.

David.

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Filed under Barclays Premier League, Chelsea, Comment, England, English Premier League, Football, Football League - League 2, Football League Championship, Leicester City, Newcastle United, Opinion, Soccer, Southampton, Sport, Stockport County, Stoke City, The Football League, UEFA Champions League

UEFA Launch Investigation After Liverpool v Arsenal Champions League Tie Described As ‘Decent’

UEFA chiefs today announced they would be conducting an inquiry to investigate claims that the Champions League Quarter-Final second leg between Liverpool and Arsenal at Anfield on tuesday was “a decent game”.

The investigation was launched after an unusual amount of reaction to the game was found to be positive. One spectator was heard to summise that the game was “actually not all that bad“, whilst another observed that he found it to be “quite a decent game, really“.

Suspicions first arose that the game might actually be alright when someone reported that he had heard a raised voice on the TV commentary. The viewer, who is seen by UEFA as key to their inquiry, said “It took me completely by surprise and I can’t remember what it was all about, but I know I heard it. Clive Tyldesley definitely described an incident in a louder voice than he had the previous one. What’s more, I thought I heard an ‘oh!’ from Jim Beglin too, but I can’t be sure about that at the moment. I may have been getting carried away“.

A UEFA spokesman confirmed that they are taking the claims seriously: “Usually there are one or two who go over-the-top in their assessment of a match, but we can’t afford to ignore this. Many people seem convinced that this was a decent game, and it’s our duty to look into it. Fans can rest assured that our investigation will be most thorough“.

The spokesman was asked about further claims that TV pundit Andy Townsend had actually described the game as ‘exciting’ and ‘a thrilling spectacle’ but was quick to play the story down, saying: “This is clearly hysteria. It is one thing to say that this could have been a decent game, but to imagine that vulgar hyperbole such as this might apply to a Champions League match, especially one between two sides such as Liverpool and Arsenal, is just crazy talk. Andy Townsend has seen a great deal of Champions League football in his broadcasting career and he would know better than to make such claims. I’m confident that Andy has been misquoted, and we will be contacting him for confirmation of this“.

As the news broke after the match, many began to raise concerns about the possible knock-on effect that this allegedly decent game might have for the rest of the tournament. The spokesman addressed this also: “If it turns out that this was a decent game then we’ll have to take it on the chin and move on with the tournament, but I’m confident that this is an isolated incident. I would consider further decent games to be highly unlikely, and fans should not be concerned if planning to view future matches in this season’s Champions League. On a reassuring note, we can announce here and now that there will definitely be no repeat of this in the semi-final when Liverpool play Chelsea“.

Jamie.

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Filed under Arsenal FC, Arsene Wenger, Chelsea FC, Comment, Europe, Football, Soccer, Sport, UEFA, UEFA Champions League