It is the big one. It is the sporting event everybody is looking forward to watching
. All of the analysts have weighed in, and it is nearly time for the athletes to let their actions do the talking. The game that will have more television viewers than any other sporting event this year, except for possibly the Summer Olympics, is at hand. However, if you want to join in on the hysteria, you might have to call in sick tomorrow, or take a really long late lunch break.
Just before 2:00 p.m. tomorrow, the Union of European Football Association (UEFA) will be holding its Champions League title game in Moscow, Russia. And it isn't much of a stretch to say that the whole world will be paying attention. Of course the whole world, minus most of the United States, where the sport of soccer continues to lag in popularity.
But where soccer doesn't lag in popularity is, amongst other places, Europe. Tomorrow's matchup, which could attract over 200 million television viewers, will be broadcast in over 40 languages and will feature Europe's top two club teams.
European clubs play different competitions during their season -- "domestic" leagues, domestic "Cup" playdowns, and European-wide tournaments. The UEFA Champions League is the best of the best teams from across the continent.
"The Champions League Final is arguably the biggest club soccer match of the year," said Buena Vista University women's soccer coach Hunter Balmer. "The Champions League is the most competitive club tournament in the world."
The UEFA Champions League, which began in 1955 as the European Champion Clubs' Cup, is a nearly year-long club soccer competition. The tournament consists of several stages. In the present format it begins in mid-July with three preliminary knockout qualifying rounds. The 16 surviving teams join 16 seeded teams in a group stage. Eight group winners and eight runners-up enter the final knockout rounds, which end with the final match in May. Previously only the champions of their respective national league could participate in the competition; however, this was changed in 1997 to allow the runners-up of the stronger leagues to compete as well.
"The winner every year could be arguably the best club team in the world," stated BVU men's soccer coach Scott Phipps. "The uniqueness of this tournament is that the teams are competing for months with the other top tier teams in the many European leagues. It is an honor for any team just to be in the Champions League."
This year's championship game is receiving added attention because for the first time in the history of the tournament, the title showdown will pit two squads from England against one another. Manchester United and Chelsea routinely compete in the English Premier League. Year after year, these two rivals are regularly near the top of the EPL standings. Both franchises are over a century old, and they have had numerous important contests through the years. But tomorrow's game means more than any of the previous meetings.
"Many of the players are saying that this is the most important match of their lives," Balmer reported. "This one game could define the legacy of each club in this decade."
Manchester United, which has over 330 million professed supporters worldwide, might be the most popular sports team on the planet. It is the second most successful English soccer team ever and is by far the most decorated in recent years, having won 19 major honors since 1986. The Red Devils are in search of their third UEFA Champions League crown.
Chelsea, known as the Blues, has never won Europe's top prize. Chelsea, which toured through the United States playing a slate of exhibition games last year, has been one of the marquee teams in England for the past decade. Like the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field or the Green Bay Packers and Lambeau Field, Chelsea's fame is rivaled by its home stadium. Built in 1877, Stamford Bridge continues to host some of the world's top soccer games. It is the only place the Blues have ever called home.
One of those two squads will win one of the most coveted trophies in all of sports tomorrow. If you find yourself in front of a television, you might want to flip over to what has been dubbed the "European Super Bowl". Even if soccer isn't your game, perhaps as a fan of sports, you can simply appreciate the enormity of the historic event. But I don't know if this "Super Bowl" will have humorous commercials. However, I have to imagine that those Geico cavemen might actually be funny in one of those 40 languages.