David Hirshey writes regularly for Deadspin about soccer.
Say this for John Arne Riise. As diving headers go, it was textbook, a classic, one for the year-end highlight reel. The Liverpool defender launched himself at the ball with fearless abandon and rocketed it into the top of the net. The keeper never had a chance.
Wait, did I mention it was his own keeper? And that instead of carrying him off the field, his teammates probably wanted to finish what Craig Bellamy started last year and take a nine iron to his face.
In fairness to the ginger-headed Norweigan, it was the most exciting moment in an otherwise coma-inducing Champions League semifinal between two teams for whom a 1-1 draw is a veritable goal-fest. Even Chelsea manager Avram Grant, who for most of the game looked like he was eating bitter herbs left over from Passover, managed a smile at the end. In fact, when Riise put the ball into his own net in the 95th minute, Grant resembled Moses after parting the Red Sea. Yes, Avram, it was a helluva miracle, but you had fuck-all to do with it.
"We took a big step toward the final today," said Grant afterwards, loosening the noose around his neck and looking forward to the return leg at Stamford Bridge where Chelsea hasn't lost since Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon and Liverpool hasn't scored in four years under Benitez. Clearly, the Blues are now the favorite to reach the Champions League final against the winner of Barcelona and Manchester United. This is especially good news for Chelsea's billionaire Russian owner Roman Abramovich, because the game will be played in Moscow, where I'm guessing he knows how to arrange to have his eventual opponent killed. But if I were Roman — and of course I'm not or I'd be banging a Russian supermodel half my age — I'd hold off putting a down payment on a hitman just yet.
Let's face it, Chelsea could have easily lost by three goals yesterday, and the only reason it didn't was because Fernando Torres, of all people, wasted a handful of the kind of chances he normally buries with insolent ease. It took Dirk Kuyt, the hardworking Dutchman whose first touch makes him look like he's wearing wooden shoes, to give Liverpool the lead and, like Riise's blunder, it was the result of some comical schoolboy defending.
The culprit was Lampard, and how happy does it make me to write those four words? Fat Frank, back from a two-game leave of absence due to an illness in his family, looked rusty from the start, and when he dawdled on the ball at the edge of the box, Kuyt stripped him. The ball ping-ponged to Mascherano whose scuffed shot looped over Makelele and Kuyt was in the right place to hammer it through Cech's legs.
Even though that happened in the 43rd minute, who in their right mind didn't think the lone goal would stand up? After all, in their last six previous meetings including an overtime game that went to penalty kicks, the teams had managed to light up the scoreboard for a grand total of three goals. And it was hard to see where a Chelsea score would come from other than off the foot or head of Drogba. But the Ivorian marksman whose two goals against Arsenal had buried the Gunners season — along with my will to live — had his hands full with Carragher and Skrtel who took turns grappling with his pace and power. For the most part, they kept him in check, though sometimes by means that would have made Kimbo Slice proud.
Meanwhile, the Blues were being overrun in midfield with Ballack, except for a late header on goal, basically useless, and Joe Cole, normally Chelsea's most lively attacker, strangely muted. Finally, in the 61st minute, Benitez and Grant made the moves that would turn the game. The Spaniard was forced to bring on Riise when Aurelio was stretchered off with a groin injury, and Grant countered by substituting Salomon Kalou for Cole. It was Kalou's dipping cross in the fifth minute of stoppage time that, along with the looming presence in the box of another Grant sub Nicolas Anelka, caused Riise to shit the bed and give Chelsea the away goal they hardly deserved.
So now, considering that Liverpool faces the daunting task of winning at the Bridge next week, their fans are curiously Zen-like. Take Lingering Bursitis, who in addition to being the brains behind Unprofessional Foul, now works two doors down from me and is my office bitch. While I watched the game in a nearby bar, LB was stuck at work cleaning dirt out of my old Umbros, so I magnanimously offered him the chance to steal glimpses of the match on my office TV. When I returned to work, I was surprised to see my office intact and my television unharmed. I found LB sitting quietly at his desk in lotus position, chanting " 2005, 2005, 2005."
"I feel sorry for Chelsea ," said the Scouser Buddha. "They needed a spectacular own goal to stay alive. But the path of enlightenment has many false starts. I am at one-one with everything."
And it was only then that I noticed the industrial-sized bottle of Oxycontin in his bottom drawer.