It’s déjà vu in Europe
APRIL 26 — I like history and I like football.
Putting them both together I find that statistics outweighs form when it comes to predicting the outcome of matches.
Prior to the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, I had predicted the four semi-finalists and it turned out that I was 75 per cent accurate.
The only exception was Manchester United. They overcame Chelsea, whom I had tipped based on their recent European encounters with the Red Devils.
Now, had I delved a little further back, nine years to be precise, it would not have been that difficult to see what this year’s competition was leading to.
Back in the Champions League semi-finals of 2001-02, Real Madrid played Barcelona while Manchester United took on Bayer Leverkusen.
So now, almost a whole decade later, it’s truly déjà vu with an identical make-up in terms of countries represented and more amazingly, an almost identical line-up in the semi-finals of the Champions League of 2010-2011.
Back then, Real Madrid went on to beat Barcelona, winning the tie at the Nou Camp 2-0 in the first leg, then drawing 1-1 at home.
Meanwhile, Man Utd drew both matches with Leverkusen – 2-2 at home, then 1-1 in the away tie, enabling the Germans to go through on the away-goals rule.
Real Madrid, under their last great manager Vicente Del Bosque, defeated Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 in the final played at Hampden Park, Glasgow, the home of the Scottish national team.
Raul scored the opener for Madrid in the eighth minute, before Lucio pulled one back for Leverkusen.
Then came a most spectacular goal from the legendary French midfield maestro, Zinedine Zidane, to clinch ‘Ol Big Ears (as the Champions League trophy is nicknamed) for the adoring fans from Madrid.
That match turned out to be Real Madrid’s last appearance in a Champions League final.
The following season (2002-03), the Spaniards only got as far as the semis. Since then, they had never made it even to the quarter-finals . . . well, until the next great manager came along, that is.
Jose Mourinho is exactly what Real Madrid need in a manager. Guts, huge ego, no-nonsense, intelligent and most importantly, a tactical genius.
Without the right combination of all of the above traits, no manager would have been able to get the best out of the stars among the players in Madrid, as well as maintain some sort of control over the highly-demanding president, board and supporters at Real Madrid.
Even Del Bosque did not really have the hold that Mourinho has over the president and his men. So, Mourinho should last longer in his job, providing he wants it of course.
Getting back to this year’s semi-finals, I will go out on a limb here and predict a repeat Spanish-German clash in this year’s final on May 28 at Wembley Stadium, England’s national stadium, in London.
Again, the Spanish team going through to the final will be Real Madrid and not Barcelona as most pundits will likely predict.
Madrid meeting Schalke 04 is the best bet for football seeing that it will have Raul, the legendary Real Madrid ex-captain, meeting his ex-teammates for the first time since he left the team (being surplus to Mourinho’s needs) at the beginning of the season.
Raul is certainly not past it as he has shown in Germany and across Europe in the Champions League campaign so far.
The Germans showed Inter Milan what they are capable of, both home and away, and I expect the same blitzkrieg of Man Utd first in Schalke, then in Manchester.
One final statistic that I need to remind football fans of is that Man Utd have never beaten a German team in the semi-final in Europe or in the knockout stages (with a two-leg format) safe for the final in 1999, when they defeated Bayern Munich 2-1.
It’s going to be two helluva matches kicking off at 2.45am tonight (tomorrow morning) and tomorrow night (Thursday morning), respectively.
Enjoy the football even if you might not enjoy the match.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.