SPORTS

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May 22, 2001

A history lesson in Red

Will man ever reach the red planet? Will the Red Sea ever turn red? Will we ever see the resurrection of the Red Revolution? The only certainty with which I can answer in the positive is to the very last question: tremble in fear because the Red blood that flows through the Red veins of every Red is getting ready for a Red hot summer. Liverpool, the original Reds of football, is breathing once more, and they are breathing down the necks of Red imitators, a.k.a. Man Utd, and Arsenal. Give it up for Gerrard Houllier's men and the 500,000+ Merseysiders who took to the streets of Liverpool to celebrate the first Treble winners of the new millennium. Meanwhile, east of Liverpool in a palace known as The Theatre of Dreams (soon to turn into a nightmare) in a land called Manchester... the 10-year younger kingdom of Reds is turning pink in fear. Not only is King Ferguson threatening to abdicate on the eve of United's centenary, Heir apparent, Lord Steve McClaren is also looking to London for a new kingdom, that of West Ham. Grand Knight Beckham is readying his horse to defect to the continent if his royal highness takes off the throne... It is a truly wet day in Manchester. Riding the tides of the English Channel, across the French Alps and the thick forests of Bavaria, another contingent of Reds are sharpening their blades, a blade two years in the making (since May 1999, Nou Camp, Catalonia). The 100-year kingdom of Bayern Munich has wiped the blood of Manchester and Madrid off their Catanaccio Shield (for this season's campaign, their shield was in far greater use than their sword against these two nemeses of the past couple of years), and is poised for the final showdown with Europe at stake, against the children of El Cid, the mighty galleons of Valencia. The stage is Milano, and the time is tomorrow. The victors of the Battle of San Siro will once and for all kill the phantoms of their past, each in the image of the other (Bayern 1-2 Manchester 1999, Real 3-0 Valencia 2000).

The Champions League Final tomorrow will have its work cut out by all means if it is to match the quality of entertainment that so dehydrated us watching the UEFA Cup Final of last week. Ottmar Hitzfeld, trainer as he is called in Germany of Bayern Munich, and Hector Cuper, the Argentinean manager of Valencia, will both tell you that they don't give a damn about no entertainment. They will play defensive all night long till the break of dawn if it means winning the Cup. In fact, that's what they do best: Munich and Valencia have the best defensive records in the UCL this year. No doubt both managers will look to score on the counterattack. This will almost guarantee a less spectacular final than the nine-goal thriller of last week, but believe you me, if your loyalty is towards either of the clubs, you will break a sweat. How can I forget that starry May night of two summers ago when my friends and I all skipped the mandatory English lecture to head down to the pub to watch the final? How can I forget that fateful night when Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer ripped away the European Cup from the white hands of Munich, shattering their 12-year dream? How can I forget those complete strangers from Lancashire we were all embracing after the final whistle, the tear-filled beer glasses of my German friends, and the neutral Czech bartenders consoling their sobbing customers? It was the greatest night of my life. And it was the worst for the Bayern players. Only will those memories be purged if Bayern win tomorrow, and if not, the perfect setup for complete revenge after having defeated Manchester and Madrid (the clubs that eliminated Bayern from the UCL the past two years) will evaporate without a trace.

As for Valencia, they too have a painful past. Last year, they were given a serious and humiliating disciplining by Real Madrid, 3-0 to give the score; a scoreline enough to cause blushes here and there and everywhere. If the aftermath of Bayern's final defeat was severe depression, for Valencia it was utter disgrace. They have steadily repaired their damaged reputation by reaching the final, but only insignificantly as they have disposed of opponents of lesser quality than Bayern's (i.e. Arsenal, Leeds). Only victory in the final will firmly establish Valencia amongst the continental greats. An added incentive for Mendieta and company will be the fact that they wish to present a European trophy to their respected manager, a manager who has seen his Mallorca side lose to Lazio in the Cup Winner's Cup final in 1999, and Valencia to Madrid in the Champions League final last year as aforementioned. It will be a fitting farewell present for Cuper, rumored to be joining Barcelona next season, or even perhaps a strong persuasion for him to stay.

Get ready for a grueling 120 minutes of football tomorrow! (I think... )

...and the black haired Korean/Czech messenger raced through the night on his black stallion, Milan his destination, a full review of the battle his objective. When he returns, the story of the entire year he will tell...