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.
Welcome to Pretty Much the Exact Opposite of the Thunderdome. Okay, here’s the deal. It’s 2019. A dozen years after Twitter (not a fad, by the way) transformed the very way we think about information, the power of social networking is being harnessed at all times to redefine who we are and how we interact in a world of dynamic choices. The new interconnectedness is rebuilding smarter communities by leveraging us from the ground up, 24 hours a day. Niagara Falls is being run right through Facebook now. It is also possible to Like something directly in the real world.
One consequence of this is that the latest media-rights agreement between UEFA and Snirp (the international sports-content behemoth that was formed in 2014 in the now-legendary merger between ESPN and Stephen Fry) contains a provision stipulating that managers in the Champions League final are required to keep a running MindJeeves of the event for people (“Woosters,” in the parlance of our times) who are stuck following the match on an approved GSM device, while updating their Allegiance Lists at work.
The bad news is that having to keep a running account of Pro Vercelli’s Champions League final against Roma will almost certainly make me a less effective manager. The good news is that the phone they gave me is capable of piloting a backhoe with its thoughts. And believe me, in 2019, that’s more significant than you might imagine.
Refresh this page for the latest updates.
Prospectus. It’s happening. Pro Vercelli are facing Roma in the 2019 Champions League final. We’ll be bringing you the action LIVE, as the match unfolds, as destiny reveals herself, as History falls like rain. The world begins at 6pm BST. That’s 1pm US Eastern time. That is one o’clock pm today.
Game Background. I’ll be playing the match with highlights set to “extended” and the match speed turned up to around 70%. I’ll pause the action whenever I need to write an entry, so I’m not, you know, missing all kinds of goals while I’m struggling to come up with a synonym for “pass.” Hopefully the whole thing will take about as long as a regular match. I can’t vouch for my state of my mind at the end of it.
I won’t be able to add video highlights in real time because the videos take too long to encode, but I’ll put them in after the game, almost as if they were being shown on the Snirp Sports Evening Roundup (which everyone watches religiously, largely because it’s anchored by puppets). So check back later for that. Onward.
Prematch Considerations. For us, the biggest news is that Michael Dogan is suspended for the match, so we’re forced to play the game of our lives without our:
Other than that, things are fine! Oh, wait, except that Teixeira, our second-leading scorer, who got us to this point with his away-leg hat-trick against Inter, has been out for three weeks with a hamstring injury and will be making his first start since then tonight. My assistant Roberto Colapietro describes him as simultaneously crushed to dust by the pressure and arrogant/complacent because of our recent run of results. Should be an interesting team talk.
One piece of good news: Roma are without their right winger Pierre Jost, the team’s second-leading scorer, who’s down for two months with a hip injury. Other than that, they’re fit and ready to go.
Lineups. I might have out-thought myself on this one. Rather than playing David in Dogan’s place at left back and giving Mark Linnane the start on the left wing, I’m keeping David on the wing and replacing Dogan with our Brazilian youth player Leandro. His inexperience and lack of physical strength make him a potential liability, but Roma’s right winger is also a backup (albeit one with 30 caps for France), and if Leandro can hold the position I’ll have Linnane on the bench as a fresh substitute at striker in case Teixeira falls apart.
Roma are fielding their strongest available starting lineup, as you’d expect. Cavalli is the Italy goalkeeper; their midfield duo of Nelles and Oner is one of the best in the world; and their striker Alberto Cairo probably is the best in the world, at least in terms of raw ability:
Their left winger, Manuel, isn’t much of a scoring threat (Finishing 12), but he’s blazing fast and deadly with a cross. Reuven’s lack of pace is a potential weakness at the back, but other than that, they’re not a team with a lot of obvious vulnerabilities. In any case, we’re running roughly the same formation, and just looking at the lineups shows that this is a heavyweight fight:
Pro Vercelli: Larsen; Leandro, Ferjancic, Ibrahimovic, Kulic; Sammarco, Martini, Mogi; David, Contini; Teixeira
Subs: Linnane, Arteaga, Rubino, Cherif, Mendoza, Caprioli, Bloch
Roma: Cavalli; Pavoni, Reuven, Ne, Orlando; Cruz; Nelles, Oner; Manuel, Lefevre; Cairo
Subs: Manetta, Ronaldo, Cuomo, Jawo, Tedesco, Zenga, Costa
Tactics. Everything about this season has made me skittish, but I’m not here to act scared. I told the players in the team talk to win this for the fans in Vercelli, and at the very least we mean to give them a show. We’re spreading the formation across the width of the pitch and aiming for fluid build-up play based on movement, a slow tempo, and lots of short passes. Ideally, we’ll work the ball down the flanks and win some corners—maybe not the best strategy while Dogan (our corner-taker) is out, but then, Roma have fairly short defenders. In any case, the fullbacks are pressing forward, so we’ll have to hope the Ferj and Ibrahimovic are able to contain Cairo and Nelles on their own.
Into the Bright Lights. We’re coming out of the tunnel now into the beautiful Estádio do Dragão…it’s a warm Portuguese evening…we’re lining up for the anthems…I can only imagine how typing on this thing makes me look on TV…
1 min And we’re off, as Teixeira knocks the ball back to Ibrahimovic. We make a decent start, stringing nine passes together before David tries to dribble and has the ball carved out of his side by Cruz.
2 min We’ve had almost all the possession in these early moments, but have struggled to advance the ball out of our own half. Now, however, Sammarco pushes it up to Martini, who fires it out to David on the left wing. David beats Orlando and sends the cross into the six-yard box. Cavalli just gets his hands around it. Contini was lurking, menacingly, on the other side.
4 min GOAL!!! @#%$!!!!! (Manuel, 1-0 Roma) So much for that bright start. Also, so much for my theory that Manuel “isn’t much of a scoring threat.” Orlando beats David to a long ball and heads it to Oner in midfield. Oner forwards it to Nelles, who plays a simple pass to Manuel on Roma’s left flank. Kulik should have it covered, but Manuel makes a move that literally shivers Kulik down to his most basic sense of self, rounds the corner, and drives in toward the goal. Ibrahimovic could stop him, but elects to defend against the cross and takes himself out of the play. Sammarco sees what’s happening, but can’t get there till Manuel has already fired in a low shot that slips between Larsen and the near post. Ugly, ugly defending from my team.
7 min Kulik, whose soul is still somewhere to the left of his body after the move Manuel just inflicted on him, inbounds the ball to Mogi, who immediately loses it to Oner in midfield. Young Leandro makes my heart swell by taking it straight back from Oner and bundling it ahead to David, who makes a threatening run down the left and finally wins a corner off Oner’s legs. Contini sends in a very good ball, but Ibrahimovic knocks it down with his hand and draws the whistle. Silly.
10 min I’m trying to decide whether the goal radically showed up my tactics or whether it was a fluke that shouldn’t warrant major adjustments. I’m leaning toward the latter conclusion—statistically the match has been very even so far, with Pro Vercelli having a slight advantage in both possession and passing, and all things considered I think the odds are with pressing forward rather than going all cautious because we’re behind. Also, if Kulik had only defended the ball rather than the white rabbit tromping through his fantasies, we wouldn’t be in this predicament.
14 min Manuel rounds Kulik and charges down the byline again, but this time he tries to cross to Cairo and Leandro heads it away. Sterling performance from Leandro in these first fifteen minutes. Kulik, on the other hand…I’m sending him an instruction not to mark Manuel so tightly, in the hope that if he leaves himself some recovery space he won’t be so easy to beat.
16 min Our most promising attack of the game so far. Sammarco intercepts a throw-in and heads the ball to David, who inaugurates a beguiling string of passes outside the Roma area. Leandro, coming forward down the left, threads the ball to David in the area, who sends in a high shot across the face of the goal. Slightly too high, unfortunately. But encouraging.
21 min Manuel tries another run down the left touchline, but Kulik is giving him more of a cushion this time and is able to cut him off. Score one for my minor adjustment.
22 min Cruz pushes the ball ahead to Cairo, who darts past Ibrahimovic and tries a speculative shot from about 35 yards. It sails harmlessly away. Ibrahimovic missed his interception that time, but in general our defenders have kept Cairo pretty well in check.
24 min It’s nervy out there. We’re threatening periodically, if not exactly laying siege to their goal, but Roma are keeping their back four fairly deep and flat since they took the lead, which is making it hard for Teixeira to find space to exploit or even to get the ball. Teixeira has been absolutely nowhere so far, come to think of it, says the manager who coolly remembers that he has Linnane waiting on the bench.
25 min As I suspected, Teixeira’s motivation rating is “looking complacent.” In the Champions League final! God, I love talented youngsters with temperamental personalities.
26 min GOAL!!!! We’re back!!! (Sammarco, 1-1) And it comes out of nowhere! Pavoni fouls Contini near the right edge of the box, about 30 yards back from the byline. While the tall players jockey for position in the area, Mogi rolls the free kick behind him to Sammarco, who’s unmarked 35 yards from the goal. Sammarco takes a giant step forward and blasts the ball into a channel that almost magically opens before it. Ray Hudson, who by 2019 has taken his rightful place as a Champions League commentator, is on TV talking about the parting of the Red Sea. Back of the net. Priceless.
30 min The match is settling into a deeper groove now that the score is level. The stats still look very even (Roma have a 52-48% possession advantage), but we’re spending more time with the ball in a dangerous place. I’ve been watching the player motivations, and hilariously, the Ferj’s jumped from “playing okay” to “playing with confidence” the instant he hit Oner with a hard tackle that brought a physio on. Once they taste blood. You know how it is.
34 min We put together a great spell of possession—the ball’s whizzing back and forth across the Roma area; the Roma defenders are desperately heading it clear, but always right to our fullbacks—but Teixeira can’t lose his marker. Contini finally takes a shot and sends it 1100 yards above the crossbar.
36 min A painful near miss! This is bizarre—we’ve almost exactly duplicated Sammarco’s goal of 10 minutes earlier. Pavoni fouls Contini, this time a bit further to the right of the area, and Mogi again slides the free kick to an unmarked Sammarco, this time a bit closer to the goal. Sammarco absolutely lays into the ball and sends it at the top left corner, but it richochets off the post and goes out of play. Sammarco looks really into this, though; I’m switching his “long shots” to “often.”
39 min Teixeira finally finds some open space and takes the ball on a throw-in from Kulik, but he’s all the way over on the right flank. Instead of dribbling, he sends in one of the worst crosses I’ve ever seen: slow, bouncing, aimed at no one, and angling away from the goal. It skips harmlessly out of bounds. Behind me, I hear Linnane clearing his throat.
42 min Roma work the ball through the center of the pitch, but as soon as Lefevre tries to break free down the right, Leandro slides in and knocks the ball into touch. The kid is earning a 6.9 for the game so far and is completely justifying my faith in him.
It’s Halftime. I’m off to talk to the team and draw some things on a board. Back as soon as I finish my mandated interview with the Snirp sideline puppet.
Halftime II. Not a classic match by any means, but given the absence of Dogan, I’m happy with our performance. I’m not making any major halftime changes, just trying to fire up the team with an encouraging talk (Leandro gets “Pleased” and Teixeira gets “Disappointed”) and hoping for more of the same. It would be easy to overreact to the occasion and try to micromanage at this point, but I suspect this is the kind of game in which our best chance is to trade body blows and hope we find an opening rather than to dream the fight out of existence with tactics. I’ll keep looking for opportunities and small improvements, in other words, but the players are going to have to win this, and I’m not going to drastically revise our approach until Roma convince me that they can find a weakness in it.
45 min We’re back. No substitutions on either side. I’m trying to feel out Roma’s halftime adjustments…
47 min They look a lot more methodical in the early minutes of this half. The midfielders casually move the ball around the center circle, finally frustrating Martini to the point that he takes down Oner and earns the first yellow card of the match. Easy, kid. Eaasy.
53 min Another near miss for Pro Vercelli! Also another touch for Teixeira, but he’s well covered and passes back to Leandro on the left edge of the pitch around the midfield line. Leandro sends the ball forward to David, who almost replicates Manuel’s goal from the fourth minute, beating Orlando to the byline, bearing down on goal, and then smacking a low near-post shot from point-blank range. Unlike Jacob Larsen, however, Cavalli is able to stop it. He can’t hold on to it, though, and it rolls out for a corner.
54 min GOAL!!! (Ibrahimovic, 2-1 Pro Vercelli) Sammarco takes the corner and sends a high ball into the six-yard box. Ibrahimovic leaps over Cairo and heads the ball past Cavalli, straight into the back of the net. After everything we’ve been through over the years—the incessant transfer demands, the failed captaincy, the awards, the championship, the bizarre behavior, down to the amazing way he just stopped scoring goals from corners this year (until now, at least)—this somehow feels like a culminating moment.
56 min We are 34 minutes from being champions of Europe.
60 min GOAL!!!! It burns!!! It burns!!! (Nelles, 2-2) Okay, well, now we’re 30 minutes from being sent to extra time. Six minutes after we take our first lead, Roma cancel it out as Lefevre tricks the ball past Leandro (he’s had a great night, but he got so badly beaten on that play that it’s almost impossible to describe without using leetspeak) and crosses for Nelles, who slips between Sammarco and Kulik to knock it into the net. Where were our central defenders?
60 min Watching the replay, I see that the Ferj was marking Oner—fair enough—while Ibrahimovic was standing stock still, in perfect isolation, on the edge of the area, contemplating the action. Scoring from a corner for the first time in months means not having to defend, I guess.
61 min Roma nearly threaten again as Manuel takes a long pass and tries to duck into an opening in the middle of the park. Fortunately, Kulik is still playing off him, and has time to react, although not without fouling him. Lefevre winds up with the ball in the area after the free kick, but shanks the shot to the point that Larsen just ignores it. I barely even had a minor heart attack—that’s how badly he missed.
65 min Two adjustments before I hit a full-blown panic. First, I’m dialing down our attacking mentality a bit and looking to play a slightly more cold-blooded game: narrower width, less aggressive closing down, longer passing. Roma have had some success with their patient approach after halftime, and the match feels like it could tip their way at any moment. Second, I’m sending in Linnane for Teixeira. Teixeira is the hammer of might when he’s got his boots laced correctly, but tonight he’s out of practice, overawed by the occasion, and retreating into his pose of arrogant detachment as a result. Linnane hasn’t impressed me as a striker—he’s a better winger by far—but Teixeira has been our worst player (his rating is 6.2) and I’d love to see a striker in our shirt even just challenge Cavalli.
67 min Cairo tries to cross from the right, but Leandro comprehensively stuffs him. A minute later, Lefevre tries the same thing with the same result. Leandro’s a really promising player, but his stats are not that good—he’s just playing out his head tonight.
70 min Pavoni knocks the ball to Cairo in the area, but Cairo fails to connect with it and it rolls straight to Jacob Larsen. An anxious green tinge is settling over the game as we enter the last twenty minutes.
75 min Roma win two corners in quick succession, but we easily deal with them both.
77 min David sends a long ball to Linnane, who’s not quite able to control it—but he does win the corner off the legs of Richard Nelles.
77 min GOAL!!!! AGAIN!!!! (Ibrahimovic, 3-2 Pro Vercelli) I don’t really know how to describe this moment. “There’s pandemonium in the stands,” the announcer screams, but that doesn’t quite do justice to the thunderous event. Ray Hudson is talking about the oceans swallowing the pyramids and the skies falling and the stars crowning the head of the Colossus of Rhodes, and that’s probably closer. But if you’re not a Pro Vercelli fan, there’s probably no easy way to understand what this means. Ibrahimovic has been simultaneously the idol and the nightmare of the club for years, he’s stuck in his worst season in memory, no one knows whether to cheer for him or to pray for the hour of his death, and now he’s scored two second-half goals in the biggest match in the club’s history and possibly won them the European Cup. I can’t even imagine what’s happening in Vercelli right now. The fans in the stadium are thirty feet in the air over their seats and I can barely feel my fingers to type this.
80 min Just catching my breath enough to say that it was Sammarco who sent in the corner, and Ibrahimovic once again beat Cairo to the header. Oner was in a position to defend the ball, but didn’t react fast enough. Ibra knocked it straight into the ground in the back right corner of the net.
80 min Roma have made two substitutions after the goal, bringing off Oner (who’s picked up a knock) for their defensive midfielder Ronaldo (?) and Nelles for their 34-year-old has-been Dino Cuomo (whose strength rating is 5). Not a formidable set of substitutions.
81 min Another Roma substitution: the 6’4″ Italy international Roberto Costa comes on for Marcelo Cruz. He’s a dangerous player, especially in the air.
83 min We’ve switched to a super-defensive, game-killing outlook with the entire midfield staying back. The clock is our best friend at this point. I know that’s a cliche, but I’m dizzy; that’s all I’ve got.
86 min Kulik is hurt and has to come out of the game. That means moving the Ferj to right back, and sending in 18-year-old Riccardo Caprioli to play centerback. Caprioli’s been solid in his 15 or so appearances for us this season, but if you’re wondering whether I was planning to finish the Champions League final with three teenagers on the pitch, the answer is no, I wasn’t. While I’m at it, I take out Kenji Mogi and replace him with Davide Rubino, a grittier and more defense-minded presence in the center of midfield.
87 min Roma are flinging long balls forward, but the Ferj is cutting them off in the air every time. He’s straying a little too far into the middle of the pitch for my liking, but it’s working so far…
90 min Near miss for Pro Vercelli! With entire Roma team focused on going forward, Linnane gets free in the area and aims a powerful shot at Cavalli. It’s too high, but it’s more than Teixeira managed tonight.
90 min Three minutes of added time…
91 min Pavoni scythes down Contini, who…needs a few minutes and a talk with the physio to recover. I’m not asking; I don’t want to know. I’m sure he’s legitimately hurt. Anyway, Pavoni is booked for the incident. It’s no more than he deserves; he’s been hacking at Contini all night.
93 min Ostentatiously checking my watch…
94 min OSTENTATIOUSLY CHECKING MY WATCH…But it does no good, as Roma win a late corner!
94 min Pavoni sends in a hanging ball…Contini forgets to mark Reuven, who gets his head to it…and it goes floating over the crossbar. That was painfully close. The stadium is spinning a bit…
96 min Pointing to my watch and berating the sideline assistants…
97 min Pro Vercelli have won the Champions League!
Dazed Initial Reaction. It’s almost impossible for me to adopt the perspective of a neutral in this situation. But from the perspective of a neutral…what a match! Roma had a lead and we came back; we had a lead and Roma came back; finally we scored the winning goal through our disgraced ex-captain and former European Defender of the Year. That’s drama! Not that I would have been disappointed if we’d managed to win 4-0.
Dazed Initial Reaction, World Media Edition. “The game of football was the winner tonight,” the puppet is saying on Snirp.
Final Match Stats. Very close. They had 53% of the possession, but we managed two more shots on goal (11 to 9). We both completed around 70% of our passes. In fairness to our team, we looked more dangerous with the ball more often, and while it was a match decided on a knife’s edge, no one can say we didn’t deserve to win.
Ibrahimovic finished with a rating of 9 and was named the man of the match. Leandro finished with a 7.2, after winning all eight of his tackles, intercepting the ball five times, and winning one key header (he’s 5’6″ and has a jumping score of 3, by the way). I’m not sure whose performance I’m happier with tonight.
Postgame. Let’s go to the inbox.
VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS TO COME. Check back within the next couple of hours. In the meantime, I have to go congratulate the team, get a medal hung around my neck, and maybe spray some champagne on some people. Thanks for reading. Pro Vercelli are European champions!
Very brief song clips: 1. The Raincoats, “Mean”; 2. Sam Cooke, “Sad Mood”; 3. Cotton Jones, “Gotta Cheer Up”; 4. The Coral, “Dreaming of You”; 5. Forest Fire, “I Make Windows”; 6. Merle Haggard, “The Fightin’ Side of Me”; 7. Your 33 Black Angels, “Psycho on Your Side”
by Brian Phillips · June 11, 2009