A few mad weeks for English soccer

What a crazy week in prospect. West Ham ready to lose hopelessly to a superior Liverpool in the FA Cup final on Saturday while Wembley lies unfinished. Arsenal ready to lose hopelessly to a superior Barcelona in Paris on Wednesday while their best player, Thierry Henry, considers a future in Catalan stripes.

What a mad week behind us too.
What manner of days are these when a 17-year-old not good enough to play for Arsenal gets picked to play for England at the World Cup?

Was it kidology or Theology that persuaded the outgoing Sven-Goran Eriksson to bring in the youngster—the brave gamble of a Swedish iceman about to make way for the even more boring homegrown Steve McClaren, or the rantings of a lunatic? We head for Germany with a still-crocked Michael Owen, a clearly injured Wayne Rooney and a kid up front next to a beanpole called Peter Crouch. Madness and one step beyond.

But how do you stay in the game and stay sane these days? No doubt, given Tottenham’s experiences after dinner in the Marriott hotel, Liverpool and West Ham will be taking food tasters with them before they tuck into the pre-final lasagne in their respective Cardiff hotels.

If, and that’s a sizeable if given the food poisoning contracted by 10 of the Tottering Hotspurts last week, both sides emerge to run down the wing rather than make runs to the loo, it has to be Liverpool to lift the last major domestic trophy.

Third in the Premiership and semifinal winners over fairly indomitable Chelsea, the Reds will start with Crouch, probably next to Djibril Cissé or Fernando Morientes. It’s a pity Robbie Fowler is cup-tied. I could see him coming on to deliver the coup de grace as a reminder to all those who say he’s finished as a predator.

West Ham? They ruined Spurs’ historic Champions League attempt with a 2-1 win on the final day last Sunday. But it’s the man who started on the bench last week, Marlon Harewood, who has got the Hammers back to the final for the first time since Trevor Brooking’s extraordinary diving header beat Arsenal at Wembley in 1980.

Assuming, then, that Liverpool take the cup, we move on to the final action of the season. Arsenal versus Barcelona. The greatest club showdown on earth. The fourth-best side in England (just) against Spain’s runaway champions. No contest. Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto’o are pure gold nuggets. Arsenal, with their rag-tag bunch of imports, are surely hopeless in the face of such talent, as they proved with perhaps the worst semifinal display on record at Villarreal last month. Bloody awful they were.

Couldn’t hold on to the ball, couldn’t get a ball near Henry’s pace, failed to shut down Riquelme. Ironically, the great under-performers that night were both Spanish. Cesc Fabregas, pinched from Barca’s youth ranks by the astute Arsène Wenger, and Jose Antonio Reyes, who pines for his homeland.

On top of that, the Premiership’s great star, the man who could yet win the World Cup for France this year, found himself draped with a Barcelona shirt during that awful semi, won courtesy of a Jens Lehmann penalty save and a huge dose of good fortune. This time next year all three could be playing in La Liga.

That’s it, no question. Liverpool 3 West Ham 1 if they’re lucky. Arsenal, yet to concede a goal in Europe this year, 0, Barcelona 1 or 2 or even 3 if Ronaldinho gets room against a still uncertain Sol Campbell.

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