The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.
We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.
Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.
Apparently Manchester United and Chelsea supporters dropped so much money at Lenin’s tomb over the last few days that Putin sent Grigoriy a fistful of very nice match tickets. So here I am, sitting next to the great embalmer himself, in the famed Luzhniki Stadium, in a seat so good they don’t sell it on the open market. Reap the benefits of my accidental cronyism as you follow along with my live account of the first all-English Champions League Final. It’s Man Utd vs. Chelsea…after the jump.
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Heartbreak Can’t Hurt Me: I spent the last day just re-immersing myself in football, diving down so deep into the waters of the sport that the image of Natasha couldn’t follow me. And I’m happy to say I’ve basically gotten over her. I mean, football has its own beauties, right? Fine, it doesn’t have her eyes. Her eyes were…they were special. But I’m not thinking about that! Really, I’m going to put Natasha out of my mind and just try to enjoy the game.
Razor’s Edge: It’s hard to say who has the upper hand between these two teams. Man Utd held off Chelsea to win the Premier League this season, but Chelsea beat them in their last match, less than a month ago. Granted, that was at Stamford Bridge, which is arguably even more pro-Chelsea than the rest of mainland Russia.
Manchester United: van der Sar; Brown; Ferdinand; Vidic; Evra; Ronaldo; Scholes; Carrick; Hargreaves; Rooney; Tevez.
Subs: Kuszczak, Anderson, Giggs, Nani, O’Shea, Fletcher, Silvestre.
Chelsea: Cech; Essien; Terry; Carvalho; Ashley Cole; Joe Cole; Ballack; Makelele; Lampard; Malouda; Drogba.
Subs: Cudicini, Shevchenko, Obi, Kalou, Alex, Belletti, Anelka.
Ashley Cole will be coping with an ankle injury he suffered during training yesterday. Chelsea say he’s okay, though. Other than that, the news is basically good for Chelsea, as Drogba and John Terry are fit to play despite recent worries. Time heals all wounds, I guess. I’ll find out for myself soon enough. Man Utd are invincible and healthy, like a girl who doesn’t care about you. Sorry! I swear, I am blotting out all thoughts about Natasha and concentrating on this game.
Kickoff Which would be easier to do, of course, if she hadn’t just made her way to a seat three rows below mine.
1 min With her boyfriend.
2 min I want to kill myself.
4 min Malouda sends two fairly decent crosses into the box, but United head them away.
6 min Rooney plays the ball to Hargreaves on the right, but his cross comes to nothing.
7 min Remember Ralph Wiggum’s imaginary friend Wiggle-Puppy, the dog who could fly by wiggling his tail? Wayne Rooney is playing in tonight’s match.
8 min Yeah, I just found that joke on here. I guess I wrote it last night. My heart feels like someone left it in a car wash. I don’t have anything funny to say.
10 min Nothing really developing for either team so far. They’ve been tight and gritty, as befits a universe of meaningless suffering.
11 min I’m sorry. I’m going to try not to be like this.
14 min Man Utd are dominating possession, but struggling to come up with anything in the meaningful third of the pitch. Ashley Cole looks healthy, so far.
15 min Well, now he’s changing his shoes, so who knows?
16 min Natasha’s very ostentatiously wearing a Man Utd jersey. Looks like she’s a Ryan Giggs fan. Is it weird that I find that sexy?
16 min She keeps looking back here—I think to see if her dad has noticed that she’s cheering for Man Utd. She kind of smiled at me, though. Did she? Did I dream that?
17 min A dangerous cross from Ronaldo sails slightly over Owen Hargreaves’s head.
19 min Hargreaves is playing as a right winger, by the way. He’s been pretty effective so far. At least, he’s been in the middle of most of Man Utd’s stalled attacks. Does that count as “effective”?
20 min Hargreaves’s free kick is knocked away. Scholes has the worst of an aerial collision with Makelele, and winds up on the ground.
21 min A yellow card for Scholes and a yellow card for Makelele. Since neither of them deserved it, it almost winds up fair.
23 min Vidic kind of nervily heads a not terribly dangerous ball over his own goal. Corner to Chelsea.
24 min Oh, they’re having a great time three rows below. The mafia chemist boyfriend has his arm around her shoulders. Speaking of chemistry, I remember from college the names of acids that would take that arm right off. The corner came to nothing, by the way. Ferdinand slipped, but the ball just eluded Terry. So near, yet out of reach.
26 min It’s not fair that I have to sit here and watch him kiss her. Does that seem fair? Doesn’t he have mob friends who think it’s uncool to kiss at a soccer match? Is he completely indifferent to peer pressure? I mean…I can’t even tell if she’s enjoying it. She looks kind of tense. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking.
GOAL – Man Utd!! Man Utd 1 – 0 Chelsea (Ronaldo 26) Man Utd take the lead on Ronaldo’s soaring barbarian header. Wes Brown with the left-footed cross. That’s Ronaldo’s first-ever goal against Chelsea, unless I’m forgetting something.
28 min Natasha and the crime chemist are dancing in their seats. Natasha sits down first, though.
31 min Ferdinand digs an elbow into Drogba’s back during an aerial challenge, and Drogba goes down hard.
32 min Scholes is struggling as well—is he still bothered by the collision with Makelele? It’s hard to see from this height. Anyway, now everyone’s up and playing.
34 min Drogba heads a tidy little bouncing ball to Ballack in the box, who stubs it at the net and loses out on a goal only after a heroic van der Sar flinch.
35 min Rooney charges down the right side with the ball and sets up two hard shots, first from Tevez and then from Carrick on the rebound. Two fantastic saves from Petr Cech. Ecstasy, then frustration from the couple three rows down.
37 min Michael Essien collars Ronaldo to keep from being left for dead for the 35th time in the match.
39 min Not sure what’s happening below, but somehow Natasha doesn’t seem to be having so much fun any more.
40 min The crime chemist’s giving her a hard time about something, but it doesn’t seem to be in good fun, exactly. She’s kind of dark and tense, and he’s laughing in this very one-sided way.
42 min A beautiful pass from Rooney trickles to Tevez in the box, but Tevez’s full-bodied baseball slide is just a smidgeon too slow.
44 min Chelsea win a free kick on the edge of the box after Ferdinand hauls down Lampard. Ballack fires it narrowly over the bar. Yellow card to Ferdinand.
GOAL – Chelsea!! Man Utd 1 – 1 Chelsea (Lampard, 45) Essien’s dismal pass is dismally cleared by Ferdinand, allowing Lampard to sneak his way into the box and fire the ball past van der Sar. Who slipped. We’re even in the score moments before the end of the half. It was kind of a Rube Goldberg device/Steven Spielberg action scene of a goal. Crazy accidents coming together for a purpose.
45 min Carvalho is booked for a cynical challenge on Ronaldo.
45 min Look, I’m doing my best, but I’m having a hard time even paying attention to this. He’s down there laughing and talking shit to her, and she’s visibly hurt or distraught, and he’s having a grand old time and doing it even more. I think he’s pissed that Chelsea scored or something? If Grigoriy weren’t studiously ignoring everything she did, I think he’d be doing something about this.
Halftime Okay! I’m doing something about this. I’ll be right back. Stay out of my way—there’s your halftime analysis.
Halftime II Yeah, hi. That didn’t go well. Since you asked. I’m not sure how long I’m going to keep writing this. (Brian’s been sending me angry emails for twenty minutes telling me to concentrate on the match. Or what, asshole?) I forced my way down to their row and did my kind of George McFly “Get your damn hands off her!” routine. Only for some reason the crime chemist thought it was funny, and Natasha got really tense, like rather than being this great romantic gesture, it was purely and simply not what she wanted to be happening, to the point that she wasn’t interpreting it in any other way except that she needed to make it stop. She kind of sneered and looked away from me, but her shoulders were really tight, like she was super-conscious of exactly what was going on and not sure what to do.
The whole thing made me crazy, and I just started yelling at the guy, who looked very cool and leaned back farther than it is physically possible to lean in these non-leaning seats. Finally Natasha stood up and was like “What do you think you’re doing here!” and I was like “I’m writing a live blog for runofplay.com!” which somehow failed to convince her to elope with me. Anyway, she told me in venomous terms to get lost, and thus, I did. Her boyfriend was mature enough to trip me as I started back up the stairs.
Halftime III Thank you, life. Thank you for taking this particular off-ramp during my once-in-a-lifetime Moscow vacation. Grigoriy just said that the match reminded him of “the truth that people hit harder when they’re frightened,” which felt like it was supposed to be directed at me in this weird way, but whatever, there’s your in-depth soccer analysis.
46 min We’re off. They’re playing football on the pitch. I can see them.
51 min Hargreaves and Ashley Cole do a complicated tango on either side of the ball. The ball, alarmed, flies out of bounds. Anything to get away, the ball thinks.
52 min Joe Cole goes reactor-core meltdown at the referee, over nothing I can see. Mr. Spock heroically sacrifices himself to save the entire ship. The players are starting to mob the referee on every call. Europe, meet Premier League football.
53 min Evra, who’s barely appeared tonight, sends a high cross into the box. It’s hit too hard, and sails harmlessly away, like hope.
55 min Essien worms his way into an open shot on the outside of the area, but sends it over the bar.
57 min A Chelsea cross nearly find Drogba in the box, but Vidic flings himself in front of it. He concedes a corner, which dies a lonely death.
58 min I can’t tell what’s happening three rows down at all. They’re more separated in their seats, and the crime chemist keeps pulling a flask out of his leather jacket and taking these angry-type swigs. Natasha’s kind of holding on to herself and maybe muttering. But he’s got his hand on her leg. It’s hard to say.
58 min A blistering shot by Ballack goes somewhere other than the goal.
59 min Natasha, if I had a helicopter, I would fly you away from this. (Why am I writing this?)
60 min Ashley Cole elbows Hargreaves in the face and bloodies his nose. No booking, obviously.
61 min Natasha just fished around in her bag and took out some kind of Blackberry device. Is she checking her email in the middle of the Champions League Final?
62 min Trying to see over her shoulder but not having any luck.
63 min A lot of clawing and gouging going on on the pitch. Tevez and Ballack are making like low wolf growls at each other but stop short of going for the throat.
65 min Natasha is reading this site. She is reading this site. She’s looking at my Red Square post. …!!
66 min Malouda narrowly misses, or something. Chelsea are enjoying a nice spell of possession, or something. Grigoriy has his fists clenched and keeps elevating a short way out of his seat.
68 min A Chelsea corner succumbs to a flutter of anticipation and panic.
68 min She’s reading the Princess of Death post!
69 min Ferdinand goes down with some sort of leg injury/muscle cramp. Unbearable tension courses through the crowd. They don’t know what’s about to happen!
70 min Natasha is reading this post.
71 min Natasha, I’m three rows behind you. Come away with me. You’re not happy with him, I can tell. It’s got nothing to do with your father or the truth/guttersnipe connection, this man just doesn’t deserve you. You’re wonderful. Let’s run away.
72 min She’s putting her Blackberry back in her bag.
73 min She’s getting out of her seat…!
74 min I have to go! Good-bye!
77 min Grigoriy here. It is a sincere pleasure to have inherited the task of writing for my sixth-favorite football website while the designated match commentator attempts to run away with my daughter. We have a match situation that merits serious analysis, but as I can see that my esteemed co-author has largely filled this space with the speculations of his heart, I will limit myself to saying that if English Premier League is like this in person every week, then it is moderately entertaining every week.
78 min Drogba clips the ball off the outside curve of the right post. Oh, my heart! (That to maintain the tone.)
78 min Tevez wags his arm in frustration, having had a game befitting a troll with an illegitimate contract. The injured Ferdinand, struggling to keep pace with Malouda, allows a promising ball to be played to Drogba, but he squanders it, as he so often does, brilliantly. Commentators in Moscow will perhaps be slow to allow that the state of the Russian pitch may have contributed to the mishap.
82 min You will be interested to know that Vandal-prone, as he has chosen to call himself, is currently at the center of a ring of gangsters who are reasoning with him in their own particular way. My daughter has a strange notion of what imbues a lover with persuasive qualities. “Children,” I would say, but I am not at all convinced that they are any worse than adults.
83 min We do everything they do, after all. Only less whole-heartedly.
84 min I would be more alarmed by the danger being faced by my co-author if I was not so confident of the imminent arrival of my friends in the Russian police.
84 min Whom I called myself, being not only a caring parent but a partisan of the side of order, under most circumstances.
85 min I quite enjoy this “fast typing” in a foreign language. Not only does it invigorate my mind, it distracts me from Chelsea’s apparently perfect inability to convert any of ten thousand chances on goal.
87 min Ah, yes. Quite a fracas in the aisle a few rows down. The myrmidons have arrived, lacking an Achilles but not needing one to disperse this rabble.
88 min Not without my help, Vandal-prone has triumphed over the mafia. Just in time, too; I was beginning to worry for the safety of his laptop. Now he is looking desperately for my daughter, who is characteristically difficult to find. Ah, but he has found her.
90 min Joe Cole attempts an old-fashioned soft shoe in the box, but loses the ball and surrenders the goal kick. Ryan Giggs has been brought on for Paul Scholes.
90 min There are to be two minutes of added time. Extra time looms like a thunderhead.
End of regular time. Somewhere or other there is a parable of a myna bird who learned to speak a single word that drove all hearers mad. Lest extra time become a late and regrettable recapitulation of the same story, I shall try to tighten the footballing focus of this “live blog” and concentrate rather less on the light opera of my daughter and Vandal-prone.
End of regular time II. Who were surely, however, surprised to find the limousine waiting for them that I called when the police arrived.
End of regular time III. Being, as I said, a caring parent, albeit one who never quite envisioned that his grandchildren would enjoy the dubious distinction of American citizenship.
Extra time begins We are “off,” as they say in horse-racing.
92 min Cech is driven to the expedient of dropping bodily atop a squirting ball played by the troll.
93 min Kalou is brought on for Malouda, bless him.
94 min Lampard, receiving the ball in the box, tries a superb left-footed shot that clatters off the frame of the goal. If I die before the end of the match, the man next to me will carry on reporting.
98 min If I smash the laptop, however, you will simply be out of luck. Kalou makes a sly run at the box and lays the ball off for Essien, who fires the ball into the side netting.
99 min Football is meant to be calm, after all; if I wanted excitement, I would embalm a corpse. Anelka is brought on for Joe Cole, who has, as usual, disputed the notion that wind-up toys lack footballing agility.
101 min A corner for Man Utd as Evra’s darting cross, sent at the net by Giggs, is narrowly blocked by Terry. Lines of poetry flare up in my brain which I have not read since my school days. Nani is brought on for Rooney, who has played with his usual straightforwardness.
103 min Cech tersely blocks a shot by the galloping Tevez. I fear Chelsea’s spell of dominance is coming to a premature (i.e., to a goalless) end.
105 min The match has at least developed a quality of “back and forth,” as they say in table tennis. Admittedly, the skill on display is more or less of this Earth.
Halftime in extra time. The rain, which beats harder by the moment, pounds upon the pitch, convincing romantics and sentimentalists that they are watching an epic event.
106 min Romantics and sentimentalists will perhaps be pleased to learn of the email my chauffeur has just sent me, to the effect that he has dropped my daughter and Vandal-prone at the airport.
107 min “Vandal-prone”…I presume he has been continually spray-painted?
110 min Tension continues to mount as the quality of play continues to decline.
111 min Vidic receives a yellow card for toppling Anelka at the edge of the area. Drogba strikes the free kick a short distance to the right of the goalmouth. I am not accepted into the afterlife on the grounds that it “is not my time yet.”
114 min The mad slipping and piling up that goes on as Nani threatens outside the Chelsea goal does not, I will be told in my newspaper tomorrow, detract from the heroic efforts undertaken by the Russian authorities responsible for preparing the pitch.
116 min The players move together en masse to begin a passage of shoving and sniping that is rather unthreatening and predictable right until the moment when it ends in Drogba being sent off.
117 min Drogba—bless him. He slapped Vidic; he got his just desserts. The man plays the game like a racecar that cannot restrain itself from driving down crowded sidewalks.
119 min The rain is crushing now. The players, when not figure-skating, appear equally interested in trying to score and trying to commit murder undetectably.
120 min Can anyone doubt the inevitability of penalties? In a metaphysical sense and otherwise, of course. I confess, my heart is pounding like a bird’s, and not only because my daughter may be well on her way to Tahiti with an American who writes for a football website. Ah, but at least I have his laptop.
120 min Ronaldo scoops the ball to Tevez, who heads the ball far from the goal, in his crude way. Belletti is brought on for Makelele, and Anderson for Wes Brown, to take spot kicks.
End of extra time. And we do, indeed, go to penalty kicks. Like all undertakers, I have an essentially aesthetic temperament and cannot quite find a use for religion. However, as a football fan I have frequently been struck by the similarity between a drawn match and a wicked life, in that, having failed to do as they ought, they both expire into penalties.
Tevez scores (1-0 Man Utd). The costly troll places the ball inches above the diving Petr Cech.
Ballack scores (1-1). Van der Sar guesses correctly, but Ballack’s shot is unstoppable.
Carrick scores (2-1 Man Utd). Cech has no chance to stop Carrick’s driven shot.
Balletti scores (2-2). Van der Sar dives right; Balletti casually shoots left.
RONALDO MISSES (2-2). He tries his characteristic, cheeky hitch, but misses on what may well have been an illegal kick.
Lampard scores (2-3 Chelsea). Lampard drives the ball just beyond the reach of Van der Sar’s outstretched fingers.
Hargreaves scores (3-3). Centimeters this time as Hargreaves pops the ball in over Cech.
Ashley Cole scores (3-4 Chelsea). Van der Sar gets a hand to Cole’s poorly taken ball, but it rebounds into the net.
Nani scores (4-4 Chelsea). But Terry now has the ability to make Chelsea the champions of Europe.
JOHN TERRY MISSES (4-4). Oh, my heart. Van der Sar guesses incorrectly, but Terry, slipping on the wet pitch as he strikes the ball, sends it wide of the goal.
Anderson scores (5-4 Man Utd). Oh, my heart, my heart.
Kalou scores (5-5). To keep Chelsea alive.
Giggs scores (6-5). My hands are beginning to shake, the fools.
ANELKA MISSES (6-5). Manchester United are the champions of Europe. Excuse me, please. I am rather undone by the result.
Final thoughts. I suppose the responsibility falls to me, although grief has left me quite unanalytical. I feel toward my love for Chelsea rather as Dr. Frankenstein must have felt toward his monster when he saw it terrorizing the countryside. It was my own, quite gratuitous, quite unnecessary creation, and I nurtured it on my own behalf, and it has come to this. I cannot blame John Terry, whose foot merely slipped when he struck the ball that could have brought—I will say “us”; at this moment I will—victory. I will blame, instead, the unpardonable mud, from which the players—mortals and not Greek gods—individually sprang. It was an even match, played with all mortal passion and intensity, and turned on a frictionless surface like the history of Europe on the (equally slippery) personality of Metternich. I salute the victors. Weeping for my team, I honor the cares of their hearts, and the tears which show that we are as alike as different. Bah! I grow carried away. Tonight I will drink vodka and watch this cursed rain, the drowner of John Terry’s joy and of my joy. Tomorrow, I will discover where my daughter has fled to with the American.
by Vandal-prone · May 21, 2008