The beautiful game shows its dark side

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The beautiful game shows its dark side


Manchester United players and coaching staff celebrate a successful season after beating Blackpool 4-2 at Old Trafford, England. Park Ji-sung scored his fifth goal of the season in the 21st minute to put United one goal up. [REUTERS/YONHAP]

Real, dedicated, dyed-in-the-wool sports fans around the world will tell you where they were and what they were doing when their team scored “that” goal or hit “that” home run. Those memories live long and prosper and the merest recollection can raise a smile. But those very same fans can have that smile wiped off their face in an instant with the recollection of a match or an incident that caused unimaginable heartache.

On Sunday the English Premier League came to an end for another season and produced heartbreak and delight in equal measure. As it always does.

No matter what the outcome of the day, there were destined to be both tears and celebrations around England as teams were relegated and others survived by the skin of their teeth.

With West Ham already relegated, the day’s games would decide which of five other teams would join them. Blackburn, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Birmingham City, Blackpool and Wigan scrapped it out at the bottom over which of the five would earn the right to stay for another season in England’s top flight.

At the other end of the table the only thing really to be settled was whether Liverpool or Tottenham would qualify for the Europa league.

Old Trafford provided a perfect case in point for the jubilant-despondent co-existences that football provides so willingly. Blackpool, which provided, as newly promoted teams usually do, a breath of fresh air to the EPL, had the biggest task of all the relegation battlers. As recently as the 2007?08 season, Blackpool finished in 19th place in the second tier of English football, escaping relegation by two points.

Today they were fighting to survive in the EPL and a win against recently crowned champions Manchester United at Old Trafford would probably be enough. That of course is easier said than done.

With Korean footballing demigod Park Ji-sung starting his 13th game of the season, his best season to date, United was not going to sit back and allow Blackpool to tarnish Edwin van der Sar’s 263rd and final game for United.

A nightmare start for Blackpool was a dream start for United and the “tri-lunged” Park, as he ran onto a pass from Berbatov and, benefiting from Blackpool’s Ian Evatt’s mistake, chipped the ball over Blackpool keeper Matt Gilkes.

Park was brought down in the box after 32 minutes but the referee waved away what was a certain penalty. Just eight minutes later Charlie Adam scored a wonderful free kick to give Blackpool hope. Hope turned into disbelief 12 minutes after the restart as a great advantage played by the referee allowed Blackpool to continue their attack. Some tidy passing set up Gary Taylor-Fletcher to flick a cross into the far corner of the net and put Blackpool up 2-1.

United, however, was in no mood to allow its homecoming to be spoiled. Goals from Anderson - with an assist from Park - and Owen, along with an own goal from Evatt, meant that Blackpool slipped into the relegation zone.

The bottom of the table changed every few minutes as goals were scored and conceded up and down the country but it was the Midlands and North West England where the tension was being felt most. It was so tight between the teams at the bottom that at times throughout the afternoon which teams would be relegated was being decided not even on goal difference but on the next deciding factor if goal difference was tied, goals scored.

At half time the teams would have been told by their respective managers that a single goal here or there, even in defeat, could have huge implications on who stayed up and who went down. Wolves, for whom Korean international Seol Ki-hyeon made 69 league appearances, were 3-0 down at half time but two goals in the second half gave them hope of escaping on goal difference, made academic in the end by virtue of a Spurs win over Birmingham which simultaneously secured a Europa League place for Spurs as Liverpool lost 1-0 to Aston Villa, and condemned Birmingham to the drop.

With 20 minutes left of the season Birmingham and Wigan were in the relegation zone, getting ready to join West Ham, and Wolves and Blackpool would stay up on goal difference but the fat lady, although warming up, was not singing yet.

A single goal at Old Trafford meant that Blackpool went from safe to down with Ian Evatt’s own goal and Michael Owen’s 81st minute goal sealing the coffin shut on Blackpool’s hopes of another season in the Premier league.

Goals at Wigan, Wolves and Spurs meant that in the end it was Blackpool and Birmingham who joined West Ham in the Championship next season with Wolves and Wigan staying in the Premier League. The Molineaux pitch in Wolverhampton was invaded by jubilant fans but for every cheering Wolves and Wigan fan there were despondent Birmingham and Blackpool fans.

As Edwin van der Sar was presented to the Old Trafford crowd, Blackpool manager Ian Holloway trudged off the pitch and into the Championship.

Park and his teammates have one more match before they get a holiday, the small matter of the best team in the world, Barcelona, at Wembley, in the Champions League final this coming Saturday.

By Rob McGovern []

한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]
시즌 8골·6도움, 박지성 최고의 해
1골 1도움으로 마지막 장식
29일 챔스리그 결승 출전 기대박지성이 블랙풀과의 잉글랜드 프리미어리그 시즌 최종전을 마친 뒤 프리미어리그 우승 트로피를 들어 올리며 환호하고 있다. [맨체스터 로이터=뉴시스]정규리그 우승과 한국인 프리미어리거 최다 공격포인트. 이제 유럽축구연맹(UEFA) 챔피언스리그 정상에 서는 일만 남았다.

 박지성(30·맨체스터 유나이티드)이 23일(한국시간) 열린 블랙풀과의 잉글랜드 프리미어리그 시즌 마지막 경기에서 1골·1도움을 기록하며 팀의 4-2 승리에 기여했다. 전반 21분 디미타르 베르바토프의 패스를 받은 박지성은 달려드는 골키퍼 위로 공을 살짝 띄워 그물을 흔들었다. 후반 17분에는 안데르손의 골을 도왔다. 시즌 8골·6도움을 올린 박지성은 이청용(23·볼턴)이 지난 시즌 기록한 한국인 프리미어리거 시즌 최다 공격포인트(5골·8도움)를 넘어섰다.

 알렉스 퍼거슨 맨유 감독은 후반 박지성이 도움을 기록하자마자 1분 만에 마이클 오언과 교체했다. 전반까지 강등 위기에 처한 블랙풀에 1-2로 끌려가자 얼굴이 벌겋게 상기됐던 퍼거슨 감독은 벤치로 들어오는 박지성을 향해 흐뭇한 미소를 보였다. 수고했다는 듯 손을 내밀고 어깨를 두드렸다. 박지성에게 평점 7점을 부여한 지역 언론 맨체스터 이브닝뉴스는 “(박지성의 활약은) 챔피언스리그 결승을 위한 준비운동”이라는 평을 달았다. 맨유는 29일 영국 런던에서 FC 바르셀로나(스페인)와 챔피언스리그 결승전을 한다.

 박지성은 3년 전 모스크바에서 열린 첼시와의 2007~2008 UEFA 챔피언스리그 결승전에 출전하지 못했다. 그의 이름은 교체 명단에도 없었다. 박지성은 당시를 회상하며 “‘왜 하필이면 내가 빠졌을까’ 생각해봤지만 답이 떠오르지 않았다. 불공평하다고 생각했다”고 토로했다. 당시 바르셀로나와의 4강전에서 리오넬 메시를 성공적으로 봉쇄해 결승 진출에 큰 공헌을 했기에 명단 제외는 충격적이었다. 올해는 어떨까. 3년 전의 아픔을 되풀이할 것 같지는 않다. 퍼거슨 감독은 지난 9일 첼시와의 경기에서 이겨 정규리그 우승을 사실상 확정한 뒤 14일 블랙번, 23일 블랙풀과의 경기에서 주전 선수들을 교대로 쉬게 했다. 14일 경기에 출전하지 않은 박지성은 블랙풀과의 경기에서 63분간 뛰며 경기 감각을 점검했다.

 유럽 언론도 박지성의 선발 출전을 기정 사실화하고 있다. 스페인 카탈루냐 지역 언론 ‘문도 데포르티보’는 박지성을 요주의 인물로 꼽으며 그가 메시를 무력화시킬 것으로 전망했다. 영국 일간 텔레그래프는 맨유의 베스트 11을 꼽으며 박지성과 발렌시아가 측면을 책임질 것으로 예상했다. 박지성은 블랙풀과의 경기에서 승리한 다음 “챔피언스리그에 집중하겠다”며 강한 출전 의욕을 보였다.
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