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Battle in Berlin

 Nikhil D Thiyyar |  2015-05-31 23:36:20.0  |  New Delhi

Battle in Berlin

It’s perhaps no surprise that both of them are known to be states with profound Marxist sympathies. After <g data-gr-id="88">all</g> football is known to be one of the most egalitarian games on the planet. If football is war then the Champions league is its biggest Colosseum.

On 7 June, 2015 at Olympias Stadium in Berlin, two of <g data-gr-id="101">footballs</g> biggest gladiatorial armies will collide. <g data-gr-id="126">At</g> the <g data-gr-id="127">end</g> there will only be one team left standing. On one side leading the army is football’s ultimate hipster pin-up: Andrea Pirlo. There have been reams of newsprint which have sunk in the sea in an effort to describe Pirlo’s game. The best way to describe it would be to call Pirlo a flaneur. The flâneur was, first of all, a literary type from 19th century France, essential to any picture of the streets of Paris. 

The word carried a set of rich associations: the man of leisure, the idler, the urban explorer, the connoisseur of the street. It was Walter Benjamin, drawing on the poetry of Charles Baudelaire, who made this figure the object of scholarly interest in the 20th century, as an emblematic archetype of urban, modern experience. Andrea Pirlo saunters on the football field, sometimes looking like a senior citizen adoring the youngsters playing on the park. This <g data-gr-id="129">nonchalance however</g> is deceptive. Cometh the hour cometh the man. Here’s Pirlo on handling <g data-gr-id="128">pressure ,</g>“I don’t feel pressure … I don’t give a toss about it. I spent the afternoon of Sunday, 9 July, 2006 in Berlin sleeping and playing the PlayStation. In the evening, I went out and won the World Cup.”

Backing up Pirlo’s ambition to win another piece of silverware is Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who said it was “destiny” that Juventus reached the Champions League final in Berlin. The Italy goalkeeper having won the World Cup there way back in 2006. Buffon, 37, will travel back to Germany’s capital city to take on Barcelona on 6 June after eliminating Real Madrid 3-2 on aggregate with a goal from Alvaro Morata. The semi-final was classic “Juve” (as they are fondly called), once they scored that goal and secured that slender lead, they frustrated Real Madrid’s famed attack. It was a sight to behold. Cristiano Ronaldo and the <g data-gr-id="130">white shirted</g> elitists of <g data-gr-id="122">Madrid,</g> nullified and evicted out of the same tournament they had won last year. This is probably why Juventus is <g data-gr-id="120">the irresistible,</g> “comeback rising from the ashes” story of this summer. Those who have been following football as <g data-gr-id="131">dilligently</g> as they read their morning newspaper will remember that Juventus <g data-gr-id="117">were</g> demoted to Serie B as punishment for their part in a corruption scandal.

At that time a sporting tribunal set up by the Italian federation to decide on claims of match-fixing ordered the club be relegated to Serie B from Serie A and forced to start the next season with a 30-point deduction. It seemed unlikely at that time that Juventus would have played in the Champions League before 2009. To come from that scandal and beat Real Madrid is an achievement of mammoth proportions. One of the reasons Juventus was probably able to beat Real Madrid was the levels of energy at which they played. Real were outclassed by Massimo Allegri’s men not only on a tactical level but also on a physical level. And for this Real Madrid’s manager Carlo Ancelotti has paid the price. Ancelotti joins a long list of managers who have either been sacked or quit managing a team post winning a Champions league. Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola are some of the illustrious names on the list of the departed managers. <g data-gr-id="103">Allegri however</g> faces no such pressure from the Agnelli family which runs the club.The family is known to be one of the most understanding proprietors in club football. In managing Juventus to the <g data-gr-id="106">finals</g> Allegri has shut up the worst detractors and surprised the most ardent fans of Juventus.

The recent scudetto is just another feather in his cap. The surprise and <g data-gr-id="116">jubilation however</g> may not last long. Juventus's famed defense is up against arguably the strongest attacking trio Barcelona has had in years, nay, decades. The <g data-gr-id="132">triumvate</g> of Luis Suarez, Neymar Jr. and Lionel Andres Messi’ has destroyed every single defense which has stood in its collective cross hairs. Barcelona’s clinical unravelling of Bayern Munich in the semi-finals is a solid example of this ruthless and surgical attacking prowess. Until 70 odd minutes of that <g data-gr-id="109">game</g> Bayern’s defenders and midfielders defended like their life depended on it. Nevertheless predators as lethal as Suarez, Neymar and Messi can't be defended against for too long. Their weapons were too precise and their incisiveness way beyond sublime. Statistics <g data-gr-id="108">attest</g> for this. Between the three of them: Messi, Suarez and Neymar have scored a <g data-gr-id="133">mind boggling</g> 114 goals for Barcelona this season. Tactically speaking, managing Barcelona will be <g data-gr-id="115">a near</g> impossible task. Allegri surely recognises this. Juventus will rely heavily on their own holy quartet, except that the quartet is placed in the midfield instead of being up front. The midfield quartet of Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal, Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio speaks for itself, a terrifically balanced and adaptable variety of players one might argue is well able to duel with Barca’s combined onslaught. The Barcelona faithful would be resting their hopes on Messi.

Time and time again this season he has bailed Barcelona out from the pits of despair and redeemed their pride. This despite an early season rumour which suggested that he might leave for Stamford Bridge due to differences with the coach Luis Enrique.Football pundits will suggest ways and means to mark Messi and as usual it would be futile. Devote the defense to Messi and Neymar would wreak the wrath of God on the Juve defense. This match is special for another reason. That is because Juventus centre back Giorgio Chiellini is preparing to face Luis Suarez for the first time since the Uruguayan was given a four-month ban for biting him during the World Cup. Suarez would be itching to show the Italian a trick or two. Or vice versa.

Like Leonidas and his brave 300 at <g data-gr-id="186">Thermopylae</g> Juventus will go against one of the mightiest armies ever assembled in World football. It remains to be seen whether Pirlo and his men can outthink the marauders from Catalonia. Football pundit Gary Lineker summed it best when he said, “It may not be the El Clasico <g data-gr-id="184">final</g> but it will be a classic final. Barcelona versus Juventus”. True words have been spoken. Berlin can’t wait. Neither can the world.

Nikhil D Thiyyar

Nikhil D Thiyyar

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