Thursday, February 26, 2009

Champions League: In Defense of Two Legs

On today, soccer columnist Gabriele Marcotti expressed his displeasure with the two-legged knockout round system, in particular criticizing the importance placed on road goals. But in presenting his case, Marcotti lays out the various scenarios that, in my opinion, make Champions League play uniquely intriguing. A sample of Marcotti's strategical breakdown includes the following.

Score first on the road and you force the opposition to throw everything at you, which, in turn, creates chances on the counterattack. If the home team doesn't beat you by a two-goal margin (which means they would need to score three, which is far from simple), all you need to do is win 1-0 at home in the return leg. And if the home team manages to equalize, you've got the luxury of a 0-0 draw on your side as well. Which, again, means that the side that played at home in the first leg has to come out and attack you away from home. And that's both risky and difficult.

Sounds good to me. The advantage in these two-legged affairs can shift in an instant, placing importance on all 180 minutes of play. For example, the game one home team can be cruising 2-0, but surrender a late goal and the opposition gains a valuable lifeline, knowing a 1-0 victory in the return leg will suffice. And which side has the advantage? The one needing only a 1-0 home victory, or the opponent who advances with a road draw? Such intricacies give Champions League matches a unique drama and constantly evolving strategy that entertains more often than not.

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