DAVID SHONFIELD: Reward for human spirit on weekend of ‘destiny’

No matter where you happened to be over the final week of the football season, it was hard to escape people talking about destiny.

It was destiny in Turin, where Juventus won back “their” title, making history by going all 38 matches unbeaten, six years after being ignominiously stripped of the crown and demoted for match fixing.

On Sunday, it was destiny again, this time for the more humble side of the city, as their historic rivals Torino won promotion back to the top flight with one match to play.

Down south, in Rome, destiny ensured Napoli would finally win a trophy, their first in 22 years, ending Juventus’s unbeaten run as well as depriving them of a league and cup double.

Destiny too dictated that in France, the billionaire Paris St Germain team would lose out to Montpellier, the most unfancied of outsiders, 80/1 with bookies at the start of the season.

As if that were not enough, PSG’s game in Lorient and Montpellier’s match in Auxerre were both suspended because of crowd trouble.

For a while, it seemed as if the title might be decided by which set of disgruntled home fans had the most flares, but when the smoke cleared, Montpellier were champions for the first time and Carlo Ancelotti and the Paris fans were left with humble pie.

And in Munich on Saturday night, destiny seemed to be working overtime, twists of fate canceling each other out one after the other, culminating with the moment when Didier Drogba stroked home his penalty, exorcising his own demons as well as his club’s, and ensuring a Champions League victory that even the most optimistic of fans scarcely could dream of back in March.

Roberto Di Matteo does seem like a man of destiny, but of course there are more straightforward reasons why Chelsea won through: strong defence, tactical discipline, hard work, team spirit and a refusal to accept the possibility of defeat, even when it seemed inevitable.

Those are exactly the virtues which a much older and wilier Italian manager will be looking to when Ireland walk out on to the pitch in Poznan on June 10.

The odds in Group C are stacked against the underdogs, much as they were in the Champions League semi-finals, yet this has been a season for upsetting the odds.

Giovanni Trapattoni’s old club Juventus were not expected to win the title this season. Both the Milan clubs looked better bets, though Juve had the advantage of being out of Europe.

Antonio Conte’s team are champions not because of style and flair, though they played some good football, but because they’re durable. They drew 15 of their 38 games, but they only conceded 20 goals.

Montpellier likewise. Their success has been based on a team combining hungry youngsters and seasoned pros, none of them stars. In their final game they beat Auxerre thanks to two goals from John Utaka, last seen plying his trade at Portsmouth as they plunged into bankruptcy.

A season we all expected to climax in a glamorous Spanish shoot-out, featuring the individual brilliance of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, ended with a triumph for old-fashioned graft and never-say-die spirit. Football is a sport for human beings as well as extra terrestrials.


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