Let’s Watch Some Soccer!

With the end of the football season, basketball playoffs off in April and baseball still months from climbing out of hibernation, there is a veritable hole in the landscape of American sports. However, in Europe the annual UEFA Champions League is coming back from winter break to once again heat up winter chills with clashes between the titans of soccer. Starting Feb. 16, some of the biggest clubs in soccer will meet in the knockout phase of the 11 month Champions League competition.

The likes of Manchester United, Inter Milan, Barcelona, Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and AC Milan will take to pitches across Europe competing for what has become the most prestigious trophy in international soccer except for the World Cup. Broadcasters around the world will begin coverage on a string of games culminating in the final on May 22.

For Americans, the Champions League is the most accessible competition for people to follow all year long. This year the television rights have shifted from ESPN to the less popular Fox Soccer Channel but will most likely not diminish the lunchtime soccer talk from the consistent 11:45 a.m. kickoffs. At the Anthill Pub you can expect larger than normal lunch crowds who will have rearranged tables to face the television and accommodate for large groups of supporters to sit together. This yearly phenomenon will draw soccer lovers to the forefront with their favorite jerseys. Walking down Ring Mall you are more than likely to encounter someone wearing an old Manchester United jersey or a traditional blue and maroon Barcelona scarf or a clean white Real Madrid kit.

Americans are often portrayed as soccer ignorant around the world, but the Champions League always shows the world that we can get caught up in the excitement, beauty and pain of soccer. This year will be no different, with some of the most anticipated matches after an especially lucrative and mobile summer transfer window.

One of the first games on the billing will not fail to bring together two seasoned Champions League veterans and the most recognizable face in soccer. A.C. Milan will take on Manchester United pitting David Beckham against his former club. A.C. Milan, who have struggled early this season, are a resurgent force looking to topple the Premier League juggernauts with curling crosses and creativity from Beckham along with the vision of Ambrosini. United are struggling with crippling injuries to their defense but an in-form Wayne Rooney, perennial star Ryan Giggs and speedy Antonio Valencia will ensure a hotly contested match. When the sides met in 2007 the first leg was a thrilling 3-2 victory for United after last-minute heroics from Rooney on a rain-soaked pitch, but the second leg saw them utterly outclassed in a 3-0 loss.

Among the other six match-ups is an impressive Inter-Milan side taking on Champions League underachievers Chelsea. Chelsea’s former charismatic and controversial manager Jose Mourinho took over at Inter two years ago and he has yet to win a Champions League trophy with either team. Under the management of the experienced Carlo Ancelotti, Chelsea will take the field with the moody but prolific Drogba in goal-scoring form. Inter are eight points clear at the top of Series A but have been knocked out of the Champions League competition early for the last three years. Mourihno and ex-Barcelona player Eto’o will look to change that this year.

With no lack of dramatic storylines and quality soccer, the 2010 Champions League knockout stage looks to be set up for an exciting couple of months filling in for the sports freeze on the American front. The fans from around the world will rally behind their teams praying that this is their year. Will they see their spirits fly high with a spectacular Michael Essien volley against Barcelona only to be brought crashing down to a painful reality with a stoppage-time Andres Iniesta goal? Will you be there at the Anthill Pub cheering on your favorite team forgetting that you are missing an Econ midterm? Will you be cheering at the final whistle or will you be holding in your tears vowing to return next year as the victors? Take this opportunity to get sucked into the absolute pain and joy of a non-American sport. Let’s watch some soccer.