Those who know me know that I am OBSESSED with football (soccer) as I have been following it religiously since I was a child (though with a brief lacuna in the early 2000s where I could not be bothered with it anymore). Here are some of my favourite matches of all-time:
Classic football matches
Over the years, I have watched some absolutely amazing games which completely took my breath away. Below are some of my all-time favourites (I am open to suggestions/recommendations):
Manchester United vs Arsenal
(FA Cup semi-final replay 1998/1999, Villa Park)
I watched this game live (late night in Hong Kong) and it was quite a amazing game. As English football was dominated between Manchester United and Arsenal in that era (somewhat like Real Madrid and Barcelona in La Liga), this game was very significant as it was truly a clash of giants. It was also extremely dramatic with many historical moments, like Beckham's curve past David Seaman, Dennis Bergkamp's goal, Nicolas Anelka's disallowed goal, Roy Keane's sending-off, Dennis Bergkamp's missed penalty in the hands of Peter Schmeichel, and, of course, Ryan Giggs' all-time memorable goal where he singlefootedly dribbled past the legendary Arsenal defence- the best defence in Europe at the time (Seaman-Dixon-Keown-Adams-Winterburn, shielded by Vieira and Petit). As Gary Neville once said, this game had everything, and it unfolded like a piece of art. This is an experience that will live with me (and many football fans) forever. I must say, however, that I am neutral in this great rivalry (which is quite obsolete now, though it may revive) in that I respect both Manchester United and Arsenal equally with no personal preference. No love lost, no hate gained. Keeping a distance from the bad blood, but also enjoying the immense spectacle at the same time.
Lazio vs Milan (Serie A 1999/2000)
A hugely underrated game. No one talks about it, but it is a game that I also had the fortune to watch and shall never forget. This one is between Milan, holding champions from 1998/1999 and Lazio, runners-up in 1998/1999. Like the FA Cup semi-final above, this should have been a clash of titans (which it was to a very large extent) but it was not. 1998/1999 was a strange season, since it was very much a reversal of power in the Italian Serie A. Traditional giants (and previous champions and runners-up of 1997/1998) Juventus and Inter played very poorly in the league that season, and clubs with new financial power like Lazio and Parma as well as other powerhouses like Fiorentina and Roma all took advantage and became the candidates for winning the league in 1999. Milan were not favourites to win, since they had had an extraordinary slump for two years (1996/1997, 1997/1998), not unlike the one they are experiencing now (2017/2018). Nonetheless, 1998/1999 turned out to be a race between Milan and Lazio in the end since Milan were by far the stablest team in the league in that they did not go on a particularly impressive winning streak but they did not have any noticeable bad patches either, which goes to show that consistency is the key to success in a long league campaign, while Lazio had a very shaky start with new players (all well-established and world-class) failing to gel initially but a very strong second half of the season where the individual qualities of its star-studded team began to shine. 1998/1999 was hence a strange season in that there was no team that was convincing champions. At the beginning of 1999/2000, very few people (myself included, as I was a Fiorentina fan) predicted Milan or Lazio to do particularly well and win/retain the title, but this game surprised the world and became an all-time classic. It ended 4-4 with a Shevchenko hat-trick (first in a Milan shirt) and a Veron box-to-box masterclass. Every single player played well, despite conceding four goals both ways, and it was a game of extremely high quality. I can watch this again and again.
It is hard to explain my love and passion for the game, but I guess most guys love football to the extent that it is widely held to be one of the most popular (if not the most popular) sport in the world. People have loved it ever since its inception over a century and I am sure that it will continued to be loved and followed throughout the history and future of humanity. In addition to watching football (religiously), I also used to play football quite a lot in my younger days, mainly in a defensive capacity as I was once told that I had a good sense of positioning and was effective as a marker. Later on in my youth I was also told that I had passing skills and could distribute the ball well. No idea where these comments came from though I do agree that I like standing back and watching the game unfold right in front of me. I guess defence is my mission. Here are my thoughts on our beautiful game!
Liverpool vs Milan (Champions League final 2005, Istanbul)
Who doesn't like this game? It is one of the most inspirational finals in Champions' League history. It was a famous tale of perseverance and fighting spirit as Liverpool went three-nil down by half-time and somehow managed to crawl their way back to 3-3 and eventually won on penalties against a great Milan side. It was a game of great drama but of pretty low quality, since I remember thinking while watching it that neither team played particularly well: Liverpool could not defend for their lives (they still can't), and Milan dominated proceedings from first minute to last but could not handle Liverpool's quick-fire goals. It was a fantastic drama but not very much in terms of footballing quality, in my view. Nonetheless, it is a classic match in UCL history and it should be commemorated here.
Liverpool vs West Ham (FA Cup final 2006, Cardiff Millenium Stadium)
A few years ago (2000/2001) Liverpool won (stole) the FA Cup from Arsenal by two quick-fire goals from the speedy Michael Owen. That was appropriately named the 'Owen final'. In 2005/2006, the FA Cup final is widely known today as the 'Gerrard final', since Steven Gerrard who was at the peak of his powers gave a footballing masterclass in every sense of the word. Liverpool could not defend (as always) and conceded some really poor goals. Gerrard got them back into the game with a sublime pass and a beautiful finish. His best goal was the third when he slammed the ball home from 30 yards during injury-time and got Liverpool to extra-time and eventually penalties. It is one of my favourite goals from all time and one of the best moments in Gerrard's peak seasons. He is one of my favourite English players of all time (alongside Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney in the modern era).
Arsenal vs Barcelona
(Champions League final 2006, Le Stade de France, Paris)
I have said to all my footballing friends before that if Arsenal had won this game and the Champions' League, Arsene Wenger would probably have retired and would have left on a super-high, since this really was the end of the pinnacle of his career as Arsenal manager. It also happened in France's national stadium, no doubt an emotional venue for Wenger. 2005/2006 was a transitional period for Wenger and Arsenal, since they had come off a huge peak in the Invincible season (2003/2004) and were already showing signs of degeneration and disintegration, as evidenced by their poor form in the league that season (they came fourth, the lowest ever position in Wenger's time, and just pipped over Tottenham Spurs on the last day of Highbury). 2006 also marked the move from Highbury to the Emirates, one of Wenger's proudest achievements at Arsenal and a historical juncture in their history. Their UCL form, however, was surprisingly impressive as they did not concede a goal for a record number of consecutive games and beat Real Madrid and Juventus on their way to the final. This was a pivotal moment in Wenger's career as Arsenal manager, and if they had won this game, he probably would have called it a day, which would have made him by far the most successful manager in Arsenal's history and none of this non-sense that has happened to him since ('Wenger-out' etc) would have happened at all. I think it fair to say that Wenger gambled all on this game. The game itself was strange, as Lehmann was controversially sent off in the eleventh minute and left Arsenal with ten men for the rest of the game. Sol Campbell scored a header and Arsenal were winning right until the 80th minute when Barcelona scored two quick-fire goals to send Arsenal to the exit door, which was probably not the exit that Wenger had dreamt of. One may legitimately argue that Arsenal were robbed, since if they had played the full game with eleven men, there might have been a very different result. Nonetheless, 2006 marked the end of the first half of Arsene Wenger's tenure as Arsenal manager (1996-2006), which was brilliant and magnificent to say the least (two league and cup doubles, numerous FA Cups and Community/Charity Shields (still counting), and one historic unbeaten season). The second half (2006-present) is still going on and it has not been as good. More on this on my Arsenal page.