That great escape by Barcelona
The final of the European Champions League will be played on Wednesday, May 27, at the Olympic Stadium in Rome. It will be defending champions Manchester United versus last year's beaten finalists Barcelona, and based on the action from the very beginning, based on the action in the semi-finals, it should be a great occasion, a match to remember.
On Tuesday in London, Man-chester United, the home of a champion like Denis Law, a genius like George Best, after leading 1-0 from the first leg went to the Emirates Stadium and trounced Arsenal 3-1. Then on Wednesday, in an exciting and dramatic encounter also in London, in a match which went to the wire, Barcelona, after drawing 0-0 in the first leg, went to Stamford Bridge, and after trailing 0-1 for almost the entire match, found the winner.
And what a winner it was. After Michael Essien had shot the home team into the lead in the ninth minute with a glorious left-footer from some 34 yards out, after Eric Abidal was sent off in the 66th minute and Barcelona were left with 10 men, after Barcelona had kept on fighting in search of the goal that they believed would have been enough to take them to Rome, Andres Iniesta, picking up a pass from Lionel Messi on the edge of the Chelsea penalty area, smashed home the equaliser three minutes into injury time to squeeze into the final on the away-goal rule.
I was not at Stamford Bridge, I was watching the match on television at home, but when the ball sailed past goalkeeper Petr Cech and rippled the net, I felt a lump in my throat.
My favourite team, outside of Jamaica and apart from my beloved Cavalier with players like Art Welsh and Neville Oxford, is Tottenham Hotspurs of Whitehall Lane - the home of former stars Danny Blanchflower and Bobby Smith, Jimmy Greaves and Chris Waddle, Glenn Hoddle and Paul Gascoigne, Ossie Ardilles and Ricky Villa, Juergen Klinsman and David Ginola; and I have no love for Chelsea, for the boring Blues.
Like hundreds, however, probably thousands of the home team's fans who reacted like an atom bomb had surprisingly dropped from the sky and had exploded among them, or as if they had seen a ghost, I was shocked.
Unlike Chelsea's fans, I did not shed a tear, but my eyes were filled. I simply could not believe it.
In one minute, Chelsea were on the way to Rome, and then in a flash, in the twinkle of an eye, like a flash of lightning, after one single shot, they were out and Barcelona were in.
In one split second those who were cheering were stunned into graveyard silence and were crying; those wearing long, sad faces were singing and dancing.
It was almost unbelievable, and it demonstrated once again the greatness of sport.
To some people, the greatness of sport is skill - the ability of man, or woman, to express him or herself and in parading his or her skill to climb the mountain, to reach the top.
To some people, the greatness of sport is its ability to bring people together regardless of race, colour, religion, or class and, instead of taking sides, in giving every one an equal chance.
To others, however, the greatness of sport is its glorious uncertainty.
As it did on May 26, 1999, at Barcelona's Camp Nou in Spain when, with Bayern Munich leading 1-0 and with the minutes ticking away, United scored twice in the last two minutes to win the title, as it has done on many occasions in so many other sports, and as it did on Wednesday, the greatness of sport, apart from its effect on the psyche of a people, is arguably its ability to come up with surprising finishes, with victory against the odds, and with a climax so thrilling and so unexpected that it is sometimes like a fairy tale, like something out of a dream.
As we look forward to the final, however, we should remember Chelsea - the team which never lost to Barcelona, the team which drew their two semi-final matches 0-0 and 1-1, the team which, hunting a place in the final in an effort to avenge their penalty-shoot-out loss in last year's final, suffered a heart-rending, deadly blow with the whistle in the referee's mouth.
It is always difficult, sometimes unfair, to blame referees or umpires for a defeat, but based on what was seen on the television, following many television replays, apart from what seemed an obvious penalty when Gerard Pique handled the ball in the Barcelona goal area, there were four shouts for fouls in the Barcelona area by Barcelona players on Chelsea players.
All four were good shouts, there were fouls, the kind which have been answered with the referee pointing to the spot on many, many occasions, Norwegian referee Tom Hennings Ovred did not give even one, he just waved the protests away, and although one never knows, it is possible, very possible, that had he given even one, had Chelsea scored even one, Barcelona would have been buried long before Messi and Iniesta engineered their amazing escape.
Manchester United versus Barcelona, Cristiano Ronaldo versus Messi, Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, Carlos Tevez, Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand and company versus Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto'o, Iniesta, Carlos Puyol, goalkeeper Victor Valdez and company on the same stage for arguably the most prestigious prize in club football, promise 90 minutes of mouth-watering play.
Hopefully, for my sake at least, the ending will be nothing like it was on Wednesday. I do not believe I could survive another shocker of that magnitude.