(I’ll start with a confession: for the second day running, I screwed up my attempt at recording Club World Cup semifinal between Urawa Red Diamonds and AC Milan. Being an insomniac, however, I woke up in time to turn on the cable and record the second half. I can’t even beat old technology. The 21st Century is clearly going to be a bitch.)
And so we have the inevitable final – AC Milan v. Boca Juniors – the one I didn’t want. No one doubts these are the better teams; having watched the second half of AC Milan’s win over Urawa Red Diamonds, I have to admit the Italians played the better, more decisive game. For my money, the Brazilian Kaka was the difference, the man with that little something special to create the deciding opening, setting up a goal so neatly that even I could have finished it; Clarence Seedorf scored the winner. And AC Milan certainly controlled the tempo – Urawa contented themselves with counter-attacks – whether by choice I couldn’t quite tell – and they played with the precision and savvy I love about the Italian game; at times, it seems the Italians set out to prove with every game that precision alone is sufficient.
For all that, Urawa made Milan work for that goal. Moreover, the only thing stopping them from scoring a goal of their own was a modest boost in quality; in as little of the game as I saw, they found openings – big ones on a couple occasions – that flummoxed the Milanese, once to the point where Dida got all up in Gennaro Gattuso’s grill. They forced a couple saves, but Dida stood up to each.
What really separated the sides, however, was something simple as confidence; you could see it in the subtle shimmy Kaka used to slip by his defender, just the slightest pause to freeze the defender, before he bolted by him. This characterized most of what Milan did: their players move with the ball and react to one another seemingly on the assumption that the move will come off; it’s to the point where it’s second nature, automatic even. And it applied on both sides of the ball: once during the time when Urawa pushed for an equalizer, Milan lost possession on their side of the center circle; the second that happened, one of Milan’s defenders immediately dropped a couple steps and into the likeliest path forward for Urawa; it ended where he expected and that was it, attack thwarted. So…damn…efficient. And still Urawa found openings. A little better finishing from Urawa, just a little bit more speed of thought in the offensive third, and this one could have gone either way.
In fact, between this year and last year’s tournament (at least what I remember of it), I sense the Asians are getting close to the inevitable upset. Didn’t happen this year, but it’s coming…which gets me thinking about something else, but that deserves a post of its own. Coming shortly.