"The best don't always win," Fernando Torres said after Chelsea's dramatic 2-2 draw away to Barcelona. It's a soccer truism that becomes ever more pronounced at the highest of levels. It's why no one will begrudge Chelsea or Bayern their advancement to the May 19 final at the Allianz Arena, both second legs could have easily turned out very differently. It ultimately came down to missed penalties on Tuesday and Wednesday, a margin of error so small that it should stop us from making sweeping statements. The reasons for success were as complex and open to debate as those for failure.
Anzhi Makhachkala are preparing an extraordinary transfer spend of €300 million ($399M) with the aim of establishing itself as a Champions League club within the next three seasons. The huge investment in new players will be front-loaded on the upcoming summer window ahead of the Russian Premier League's conversion to an autumn-spring schedule.
Speaking after Queens Park Rangers' lung-busting win over Stoke City in mid-November, then-manager Neil Warnock broke off from analyzing the minutiae of the match and looked at the gathered hacks with the luminous eyes of a Jackanory storyteller. "I love this league," he said. "It's an incredible journey." That journey detoured into murkier territory after the victory at Stoke, with Rangers not having won since, but Warnock -- who got the club promoted at the first attempt after 16 different managers had overseen 15 years in the lower divisions -- will still have been stung by the owners' decision that preserving Premier League status is a job for another man.
The January transfer window: a mid-campaign silly season to send even the most sensible commentators doolally. Andy Carroll back to Newcastle? Sure, why not. Lionel Messi to West Brom? You heard it here first! January always lands a few surprises, but here are some of the storylines I'll be keeping an eye on over the next few weeks.
1. Germany could be the new Spain. The average age of the Germany team that started in a 3-0 win over Holland last month, playing a fast-paced and flexible style more reminiscent of the Dutch team of the 1970s, was 24.5. By the time the game ended, it was down to 23.4. Forward Miroslav Klose is the only player over 30 in the squad and there is young talent waiting in the wings wherever you look. Two from Mesut Ozil (23), Toni Kroos (21), and Mario Goetze (19) make up the creative fulcrum that supplies a three-pronged attack with Lukas Podolski (26) and Thomas Muller (22) either side of Mario Gomez (26), whose 22 goals in 22 games this season (at time of writing) puts him in the company of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Robin van Persie.
After a dramatic end to a year-long qualifying campaign, the 16 teams competing in the 2012 African Cup of Nations have learned their group stage opponents after the draw for January's tournament in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea was made.
The South African Football Association (SAFA) have appealed to the Confederation of African Football (CAF) after the country failed to qualify for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations due to misinterpreting the tournament's rules.
It has been exactly one year since I traveled 44 hours to Angola to interview Didier Drogba, the Chelsea and Ivory Coast superstar, for a story in Sports Illustrated magazine leading up to last year's World Cup. He couldn't have been more accommodating, spending 90 minutes talking to me in his private bungalow on the heavily fortified Ivory Coast team base in Cabinda during the African Cup of Nations.
This was supposed to be the year of Africa in world soccer, and in one big way it has been: South Africa was a terrific host of the World Cup, the first one held on African soil. Truth be told, though, the actual performance of the six African teams was a disaster: All but Ghana flamed out in the group stage, and the Ghanaians botched a last-second penalty kick against Uruguay that would have made them the first African team ever to reach the World Cup semifinals.
Nearly 11 months of competition have come to this, a Champions League final to be duked out in king of rings, the Santiago Bernabeu. In the blue corner, the lip-curled sneer of Jose Mourinho, who actually seems to be enjoying his success at Internazionale -- this is a league and cup double-winning season -- about as much as a punch in the face. In the red corner, Louis van Gaal, whose Bayern Munich side thrashed Werder Bremen 4-0 to claim its own double last weekend.
When I spoke recently with Shaun Bartlett, the retired South African striker who spent two years in MLS with the Colorado Rapids and MetroStars, he was surprised to learn the answer to an MLS trivia question: Who had the biggest transfer fee in MLS history for a two-year period from 1997 to '99?
As a lone infantryman wistfully bugles a lamenting Last Post into the chill twilight air, Team Limey stands forlornly on the battlements of Castle Limey contemplating our final EPL column for SI.com. Together, over a last pint of ale, let's relive some highlights from our five years here. And what a five years it's been.