Football is a game played by two teams and, at the end of most games, one wins and one loses. It is not always the team who has played better, or looked more likely to win who triumphs, but over the course of time, they will generally prevail more often than not.
There is one way to win a football match, but it can be represented two ways. Either you score more than the other team, or you concede fewer. Both are equally valid, and both get the same amount of credit and points. Society favours the former; I understand that. Goals are the big selling point of the game, and teams that set out to get more of them will, naturally gain favour because they will score more, and provide more joy than those who set out to stop more of them.
Last night, a great force of attacking nature was superceded by a team who dragged out the very best of their defensive ability (whilst still mustering up two goals of their own). Their draw and, over 180 minutes, victory was well deserved. They might not have set their team out with the thinking of scoring more goals than a Barcelona team who can be one of the most irresistible in the world, but they set out to concede fewer goals than Barcelona did. At no point throughout the 180 minutes were Barcelona ahead of Chelsea.
The President of Barcelona responded to the defeat respectfully and graciously. He said he was proud of the way his team had played, the way they kept to their beliefs, and was looking forward to the Copa del Rey Final.
Chelsea did not play with the dark arts (except those who were rightfully punished) and didn’t even remotely try to kick Barcelona off the field. If anything, their tactic was a little bit more like ‘rope-a-dope’. In inviting Barcelona on to them, to attack, and attack, and attack a resolute, if makeshift, and very well rganised defence, they were playing with fire. A number of chances that could have easily snuck inside the frame of the goals failed to do so – in both legs. The three goals Chelsea scored were all individual efforts, albeit Ramires’ from a wonderful Frank Lampard through-ball, and all in injury time. In the end, the telling punches came in the dying embers of the piece each time.
What I’m trying to get to here is that defending is part of football. It isn’t the prettiest part, and it certainly isn’t the best understood part, and if you’re playing FIFA or PES, you’ll find that people seldom pay it much attention, but it is a part. When it is well executed, and sometimes (as with attack) with a little bit of luck, it bring success. The American sports know this; come NFL Playoff time, you’ll hear Defense Wins Championships ringing round the States; it does, and it does in football (or soccer), too.
Chelsea got to the Champions League Final, deservedly, on the strength of their defending. They did it wonderfully well, stretching every nerve and sinew to repel Barcelona time and again, as Barcelona tried to do the same to ensure their attack had the better of the encounter. Time and again before, it has. Time and again in future, it will. But yesterday night was a victory for the defenders of this world, for the goalkeepers of this world, for the people who take pride in keeping the canvas clean, rather than painting brightly coloured shapes on it.
Enjoy it, defenders, because you know as well as I, that goals will be scored in future defeats, and you won’t get the credit for the ones that aren’t scored; just the blame for the ones that are.