Thursday, May 24, 2007

Milan banish Istanbul nightmare while UEFA pens a Greek ticketing tragedy

Milan banish Istanbul nightmare.
A Pippo Inzaghi brace handed Milan their seventh European crown as the Rossoneri defeated Liverpool 2-1 in the Champions League final in Athens' Olympic Stadium.

Inzaghi deflected Andrea Pirlo's free kick seconds before half time and latched on to Kaka's delightful through-ball eight minutes before the final whistle. Dirk Kuyt headed a consolation for the Reds a minute from time.

Milan gained revenge for throwing away a three-goal lead against the same opponents in the 2005 final and completed a remarkable season which began with a 15-point penalty for their role in the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal, later reduced to eight points on appeal, and a fourth-place finish in Serie A, which city rivals Inter won by a huge 22 points.

The result of the final was harsh on Liverpool, who dominated the game and might have won had they been able to call on greater firepower up front. Dirk Kuyt was employed as a lone striker but drifted wide many times to support wingers Boudewijn Zenden and Jermaine Pennant, while Peter Crouch was brought on with only 12 minutes to go.

Crouch replaced Javier Mascherano, in whose absence at defensive midfield, Kaka was able to advance and pick out Inzaghi for Milan's killer second strike.

Liverpool's fans, despite having to travel over 1,300 more kilometers than their Italian counterparts, vastly outnumbered the Milanese supporters in the Greek capital, although there was widespread anger at the lack of proper stewarding and half-hearted monitoring of fake tickets, which left hundreds of fans with genuine ones locked out.

Riot police wielded batons and sprayed tear gas as disorder broke out before kick off outside the stadium, when it was announced the venue was full and nobody else would be allowed in.

While it would be unrealistic to expect a Southern or Eastern European country to organise a big football event as well as England, with its modern football stadia and police well-versed in the art of handling football crowds, UEFA once more are guilty for overseeing the chaos outside the Olympic Stadium.

Returning fans have mobbed the phone-ins this morning decrying the absence of rigorous ticket checks and proper policing outside the venue.

Former Conservative Party leader Michael Howard, who was present, said, "Ticket checks were a joke. Many people with valid tickets were not allowed in."

UEFA's William Galliard blamed Liverpool fans for trying to barge in the stadium before kick off, and while some observers may note that the same stadium hosted the 2004 Olympic Games without problems, football crowds are certainly different in nature, and it should have been anticipated that several fans would try to gain entry with counterfeits.

That has been the case for years with big finals, which is why tickets now come with holograms and scannable bar codes. In light of this, there really can be no excuse for fans bearing fake tickets being allowed entry last night in Athens.

Additionally, with UEFA handing Liverpool only 17,000 tickets out of 64,000 on offer, the potential for a black market bonanza was there. Supporters' groups' studies have consistently shown the majority of tickets sold on the street come from corporate allocations, while such a small handout to a big-supported club like Liverpool inevitably meant thousands of fans would try their luck with touts.

Galliard pointed to the lack of problems at the Milan end of the stadium but that same club failed to fill their enclosure because their travelling numbers were far fewer than Liverpool's. If English fans are to blame by their nature, then how come 90,000 of them travelled to a neutral stadium last Saturday for a major final without any of the problems encountered in Athens?

While Liverpool fans must shoulder some of the blame for the disorder outside the ground, such a scenario should have been expected given the poor organisation.

The scandal of mean ticketing allocations for real fans at big games continues, and in this case the organisers, UEFA, must take the responsibility for engineering such a dangerous situation in the first place.

Liverpool lick their wounds, well aware they are still that one step behind the elite of Europe, while Milan, disappointingly lacklustre on the night despite their victory, can nevertheless toast their seventh European Cup, which gives their country the Champions League to add to their World Cup triumph over the past year.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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