This is one of those weekends where you don’t need to step out of the cozy comfort of your homes in order to make your night eventful. My own recommendation would be to clear your social calendars, or failing that, make that phone call for an early reservation booking at a sports pub near you. IPL FINALLL, CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL !!!!
Perhaps, the biggest sporting weekend of the year is upon us. And I say perhaps only because there’s that other competition to follow in the summers.
What’s it called again? The World Cup, YES!
Anyway, staying in the present, the weekend has already begun. Two different cities in two very different parts of the world are going to be the cynosure of every Football and Cricket fan in the world. In the relatively cooler climes of Kiev, habitual Champion League winners Real Madrid take on a Liverpool side led by Jurgen Klopp and inspired by the wizardry of Mohammed Salah. It simply does not get any more sumptuous than this, ask any Football admirer. These are two incredibly attack-minded sides, led by high profile managers with stellar credentials, cheered on by fans who epitomize passion, and filled with some of the biggest names in world football.
Isco, Salah, Bale, Firminho, Benzema, Mane, Marcelo the list goes on.
And then there is Cristiano. An ex-Manchester United man who is unlikely to harbor any soft-corners for the red half of Merseyside, and who knows a thing or two about excelling in a Champions League final. Barring acts of gods, I can not see this final as being as anything other than a mouth-watering spectacle of attacking and intrepid Football. The Real Madrid front three is no longer set in stone with Marco Asensio coming of age this season and robust, if not dazzling, performances from Isco. Even so, I do not see Zidane leaving out a resurgent Gareth Bale whose belligerent pace up-front could exactly be the antidote against a Liverpool defense that let past 6 against Roma in the semi-finals. While their defense might be an area of concern for Jurgen Klopp, that is certainly not the case up-front.
Enter – Mo, the magician!
The Egyptian goal-scoring machine is not the right-place, right-time, tap-in kind of goal-machine in the mould of Van Nistelrooy, Raul Gonzalez or even Robert Lewandowski. Quite the opposite actually. Mo Salah might only be a one-season hit yet, but in that one season he has come closer to looking like Messi than perhaps anyone else ever has. It is really a travesty that Chelsea let him go, and I would loath to bet against him being the game changer in Kiev. Liverpool despite Salah’s constant pyrotechnics throughout the season are not just about the Egyptian. The faith reposed in Jurgen Klopp by the board has allowed him to instill his ideas of fearlessness, shape and tactic into a squad that huffed and puffed under previous manager Brendon Rogers.
My prediction for the 2018 Champions League final in Kiev: Real Madrid edges Liverpool 3-2. Mo Salah takes Liverpool to the brink of ecstasy but it is the legend of Cristiano that prevails at the end.
Meanwhile, 5000 kilometers away from Kiev in the sweltering heat of Mumbai, a very different kind of final will be contested. The Indian Premier League is T20 Cricket’s showpiece event where the Sun Risers Hyderabad take on comeback kings from Chennai. What a fairy tale ride it has been for the Chennai Super Kings on their return from a two-year ban for alleged spot-fixing! The yellow army from Chennai were dearly missed by the fans across the country in the past two editions but MS Dhoni’s team looks like they were never away. The final promises to be a thrilling affair as the Sun Risers get the fourth swipe against a Chennai side that has beaten them thrice already this season. Excellence in any team sport is as much about mental fortitude as talent and ability, but it applies especially to Cricket, and that is one aspect in which the Chennai Super Kings have no match.
In this edition of the IPL, MS Dhoni 2.0 has gone back to being MS Dhoni 1.0. The former Indian captain looks fitter and hungrier than ever before. The swag is back, and so is the nonchalant shoulder twirl. Dhoni is the quintessential big game player, the captain, leader and legend, both Messi and Ronaldo rolled together into one ice sculpture. It is not all about Dhoni though because Chennai are much more than the sum of its part. That is usually how it works with Dhoni the captain. A third IPL win would be the perfect way to begin Dhoni’s swansong from professional cricket.
Amidst all the Dhoni worship, it would be a folly to discount the Sun Risers. They might have come up short against Chennai thrice this season but let us not forget that they finished the league stage as table toppers. Kane Williamson, their stand-in captain for the suspended David Warner has been nothing short of sensational this year. The New Zealand captain has revealed a whole new side to his game that the world had not witnessed hitherto. Not only has Williamson amassed over 700 runs this season, he has done it at a clip, especially in the second half of the season, that would make even Chris Gayle sigh. And then there is Rashid Khan – the success story from Afghanistan – who has bewildered the very best including Virat Kohli with his wrist spin this season and could very well be the game changer again.
My prediction for the 2018 IPL final in Mumbai: Commiserations Sun Risers, this looks like it is going the Mahi way.