Welcome to this unanticipated post. More correctly, the post is anticipated but the content isn’t. The choice of content came about from watching a most extraordinary football game. (Of course we Canadians and Americans call it soccer, for reasons that aren’t completely clear. Not to overlap with North American football, I guess. Despite the fact that clearly you use your foot a lot more for the round ball sport than for the oblong one.)

Why Chelsea, Barca, and Batman together? Well, the game involved Chelsea Football Club playing a second game home and home total goals semi-final against Barcelona Football Club for the right to play in the European Champion’s League final. The bit about Batman came about because of what I watched in that game and how it reminded me of a scene in the 2005 movie “Batman Begins”.

Some background. The current and recent Barcelona team are considered by many to be possibly the best squad ever to play football. They keep possession of the ball like they are possessed. They pass and move with a fluidity and dangerous intent that is literally breath taking to watch. They are chock-a-block full of World Cup winners, Champions League Winners and, well, they just win a lot.

Chelsea, in contrast, are team widely considered a former dynasty, past it’s best and now in significant decline. It also has many former winners of leagues and cups but those wins are much further in the rear view mirror than those of Barcelona. Chelsea are the clear underdogs against Barcelona.

And yet, by putting in a doggedly-determined defensive effort and by taking the only real scoring chance they had, Chelsea won the first game in London 1-0. The 2nd game is the one I am writing about. It took place on April 24.

The game started off a lot like the first game in London. But probably even more tilted towards Barca. Partly this was due to the larger field in Barcelona compared with London and partly simply playing at home. In any case it was a lot of passing and controlling play by the home side but no real breakthrough until later in the half. Barca scored and made it 1-0 (or 1-1 across both games). Then, a Chelsea player got a red card and was sent off. Chelsea were down to 10 players against the best team in the world.

That Barca almost immediately scored again was not in the least surprising. That Chelsea managed to not give up another goal and instead amazingly score their own on basically the only chance of the half, was. It was 2-1 for Barcelona at the half. Because “away” goals count double in the case of a tie score, this meant Chelsea were actually leading overall. But Barcelona intended to change that.

The 2nd half of the game was absolutely extraordinary. Barcelona lay siege to the Chelsea half and the Chelsea goal in particular. Hardly ever did Chelsea have possession and when they did manage to touch the ball it was mostly to kick it as far down field as possible. They were trying to restrict the opportunities for Barca and conserve their energy. It was so extreme that later in the game the cameras didn’t even follow the ball when it was kicked toward Barcelona’s end.

An interesting thing was on display that also has an interesting martial arts angle. Many sports, combat sports, and martial arts involve using moves, plays, or strategies that rely on evoking a response or move from the other team or player. That response is then used to set up the next play or move. This is a crucial part of strategy and can include the use of feints, fakes and dekes.

The important part of that strategy is that the opponent has to respond. If there’s no response, it’s not possible to exploit the response with something else! Effective self defense makes use of this concept and it was also something Barcelona was trying to do repeatedly with Chelsea. In the words of the commentators though, Chelsea “wouldn’t bite”.

It seemed impossible and improbable that Chelsea could hold out against the onslaught of passing, possession, and intricate play that Barcelona had on display. Yet, due to their determined effort and, in the words of the BBC “relentless defending” Chelsea did manage to hold on to a win and even sneak in a last gasp 2nd goal. They had the will to force themselves to raggedly and determinedly defend the goal with every effort.

This is where Batman comes in and it links back to my previous post “Why Does Batman Matter?” Both soccer teams in the Champions League game had the training needed to achieve their goals (sorry, but pun intended). One was clearly more skillful. But one had on display just a little more of “the will to act”.

And that, as so often happens in sports and in life, made all the difference.

© E. Paul Zehr (2012)

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