Soccer in a city that never sleeps

2015-06-17 06:00
Teboho Letshaba taking a selfie outside Berlin Wall Monument

Teboho Letshaba taking a selfie outside Berlin Wall Monument Foto:

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FC BARCELONA supporters worship their football god, the Argentine Lionel Messi. No wonder the name of this nippy attacker reverberated throughout the over 74 000-seater Olympiastadion Berlin in Germany. The South American deadly combination of Messi, Brazilian Neymar Junior and controversial Uruguayan Luis Suarez have produced 122 goals in all competitions.

I was there when the drama unfolded in the 2015 UEFA Champions League final.

After all, the stakes were high as the two European football heavyweights, the Blaugrana, as Barcelona are fondly known as, locked horns with the Italian champions Juventus.

Barcelona were eager to claim their second treble after achieving the same feat in 2009 under Pep Guardiola. Juventus FC have never attainted the much sought-after treble. On the contrary, they became the first club ever to suffer six defeats in the Champions League finals.

Only seven European clubs have attained the treble goal – with Barcelona becoming the only team to twice win the treble. In football terms, correctly so, the treble is when the club wins the league, domestic cup and above all, the continental title in one season.

Barça manager, 45-year-old Luis Enrique, has ventured where angels fear to tread. He’s helped Barcelona lift the treble in his first season at the helm – something that his equally maverick Juventus counterpart, 47-year-old Massimiliano Allegri, had hoped to achieve.

And this time around there was nothing but heartache for Juventus stalwarts, the duo of goalkeeper Gianluigi “Gigi” Buffon and midfielder Andrea Pirlo. The last time 37-year-old Buffon and 36-year-old Pirlo were at the Olympiastadion Berlin, they lifted the 2006 Fifa World Cup trophy after narrowly defeating France via the shootout. It was the same game which served as a swansong for the legendary French international Zinedine Zidane following the moment of madness when he head-butted Marco Materazzi.

The stadium has a permanent capacity of 74 475 seats, making it the largest stadium in Germany in terms of seating capacity and the second largest stadium behind the Signal Iduna in Dortmund, in terms of total capacity. The Olympiastadion Berlin has, amongst others, also hosted the 1936 Olympic games and the 1974 Fifa World Cup matches.

Though Pirlo broke down in tears after the final whistle, he can find some solace that at least he has won the Champions League twice with his former club AC Milan in 2003 and 2007. His equally ageing compatriot Buffon has never won the Champions League. However, with 148 caps, Gigi is the most capped player in the history of the Italian national team.

It was also a farewell game for Barcelona’s 35-year-old veteran, Xavi Hernández, who spent 17 years of his career at the club. He has now defected to Al Sadd SC of Qatar.

The cherry on top of the cake for Messi and Neymar was that, with ten goals apiece, they became the competition’s joint top goalscorers with their Real Madrid nemesis Cristiano Ronaldo. But Neymar set a unique record of becoming the first ever player in the Champions League to score in both legs of the quarterfinals, semifinals and in the final encounter. But Messi and Ronaldo remain the tournament’s all-time leading goalscorers with 77 strikes.

Despite the kick-off being scheduled for 20:45 an estimated crowd of 50 000 football fanatics were already waiting outside the match venue at 15:00 X patiently singing and chanting.

There were those who even took a gruelling walk from Turin in Italy to Berlin – a distance of over 1 100km.

But on a different note, it is not a cliché to suggest that Berlin is the city that never sleeps.

With the summer sun rising at 04:45 and setting as late as 21:45, there are more reasons why the city becomes no one’s mother’s house once the darkness sets in. The Germans love their beer and enjoy their fags.

Be that as it may, Berlin has been frequented by tourists from all walks of life. The city – which is a home to more than 3,5-million people X has more than twenty lakes and bathing beaches. One of the oldest is Wannsee beach – fondly called the Berliners’ bathtub by the locals. The lake is also a popular starting point for boat tours into the city centre.

And, yes, there are countless statues towering the city and various museums, monuments and heritage sites. Among others, I visited the the Jewish holocaust memorial site and the popular Berlin Wall Monument. Indeed, this has been a memorable seven-day stay in Berlin.

) Teboho Letshaba, SABC journalist, was in Berlin as first prize for winning the coveted 2014 MTN8 Last Journo Standing Competition


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