The 2012 UEFA Champions League Final was decided in such stunning fashion. Out of over 75 teams in the tournament, only one team stepped up and claimed the glory of being European King. The drama, suspense and excitement in the match showed why this sporting event tops anything that American sports have to offer.
In possibly his last match with the Blues, Didier Drogba was the hero. He forced extra time in the 88th minute, nearly cost Chelsea the match, and then delivered with the game on the line. The English club was able to silence the Bayern Munich crowd in their German home.
Comparing European football, excuse me, soccer, to American soccer, is of little purpose. So let's think bigger here. The most watched sporting event in all of America is the Super Bowl. The only tournament that is similar to the UEFA Champions League is the NCAA Tournament. Now we have some room for discussion.
To reach a Super Bowl isn't as hard as it appears. The regular season determines which six teams out of 16, per conference, qualify for the playoff. So the regular season is what a team must get through to just reach qualification for the Super Bowl.
Then a team has a one in six chance to make the big game. So a team has to win two or three games in the playoff setup to be in the Super Bowl.
Though there are 32 teams, some teams have no chance of post-season success. The bigger challenge is just getting out of the regular season in playoff position. To qualify for the UEFA Champions League Final, a club must advance from the 32-team group stage and advance from the knockout stage.
But every team in the Champions League was a top finisher in their respective European League. The top teams from countries like Italy, France, Germany, England, Spain and Portugal all compete for one prize. The Super Bowl journey is limited to the same American teams and same American players.
So the NFL playoff system isn't exactly similar to the Champions League. But since one league is the most popular in America, and the other is the most popular in all of Europe, it's fair to compare the two.
However, the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is a similar setup to the UEFA Champions League. There are 68 teams in that tournament. To make the finals, a team must advance through the stages and win every game.
The Champions League is played on aggregate so a team can lose a game but still advance to the next round. In that regard, the NCAA tournament demands more perfection from teams game in and game out.
But the NCAA Tournament is limited to only Division 1 teams in the United States. To make that tournament as significant as the Champions League, conference winners from all three divisions would qualify and teams from all of North America could participate.
In all of the years of the basketball tournament, a 16 seed has never beaten a 1 seed. Heck, most of those games aren't even competitive. In the Champions League, every team is there because they are good and have done really well in their leagues. This leads to ultra competitive action throughout every game.
The UEFA Champions League is a tournament of champions. Only the best of the best qualify and only the superior teams advance. Winning the tournament is the ultimate prize in all of sports and Drogba proved how significant Chelsea's win was.
Grown men sobbed like little girls because they wanted to soak up and enjoy the moment. They don't know if they will ever make the finals again. They don't even know how many more times they will qualify.
Making the Super Bowl requires a team to finish in the top six in their conference. From there, anything is possible. To make the NCAA Tournament, a team must either win their conference tournament or have had a good regular season. Both are hard to do, but neither is at all comparable to the way European clubs battle it out for the chance to be glorious.
In America, teams don't even have the freedom of picking who makes their uniforms. Everything is the same. If a team is in the NFL, they are adorned in Nike. An NHL team dressed in Reebok, and Adidas owns the MLS and NBA uniform deals.
In any European league, the kits are up to the individual team. Puma, Adidas, Nike, Umbro, Kappa and many others could dress teams in the same league. This is just another way that European clubs are diverse and shows that the team, not league, should dictate how a franchise looks like.
So with one kick of the ball, Didier Drogba changed the fate of Chelsea forever. He and his club defied all odds by rising up and defeating the best teams and best players around.
To be the best, Chelsea beat the best. The UEFA Champions League is the most competitive sporting event there is and the prize is greater than anything American sports have to offer.
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