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We've come a long way, folks... a few months ago, this column was a nascent idea that Hiya and I were beginning to talk out as I joined SIFS and its stable of quality writers/bloggers. That first column led off with Bode Miller, America's favorite guy who skis with hangovers, and his conquest of the World Cup overall. Now we're well into May, on the cusp of Euro 2008, the French Open and a summer of tennis, and we're nearing the end of the Giro d'Italia... and more people are reading than ever. That first column has had 263 viewers; in contrast, last week's effort has already seen 206 readers...

 

I wanted to take the average American sports fan out of his or her comfort zone, get them to better understand the enormity of the sports world out there. I feel, as we dive into the tenth edition of this weekly column, that we are making strides into doing so. Before we go into obscure sports land, though, I'd like to simply thank all of you who have stuck by for all of the incarnations of this column to date. It sure felt good to expand all your minds from the transmitting end... and, from the (scattered few) comments, it seems to be received quite well. But for this column to grow, it needs reader participation. While I love to know that hundreds of people are reading these things, unless I know what you all like or dislike in the writing, I cannot change it for the better...

 

Are you curious about something in a sport which you know little but would like to know more? Leave it in the comments...

Feel I'm not covering a sport you find obscure? Leave it in the comments (that's how golf and hockey got added)...

Do you take offense to something I have written? Leave it in the comments...

Do you simply find my style engaging and want to commend me? Please DO leave it in the comments...

 

 

With that said, let's dive into the cerebral vortex and drum up the best stories in sports less familiar to the American conscience for the TENTH edition of A Non-Traditional Sports Fan in America...

 

Cristiano Ronaldo feints against Chelsea in rainy Moscow...Rivulets of rain poured onto Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow as Manchester United and Chelsea played an epic for the Champions League crown yesterday. The third time two sides from the same nation have played each other in the final, this one proved much more competitive than the 2000 final between Real Madrid and Valencia which ended in a dominant 3-0 decision for Los  Blancos (who were unfittingly clad all in black for the match) on goals by Fernando Morientes, Steve McManaman and Raul. It was a higher-paced game, furthermore, than the dour affair between Italian dynamos Juventus and AC Milan in 2003 which also ended in penalties...

 

Oh, did I forget to mention that yesterday's final went all the way to penalties? Cristiano Ronaldo, possibly the world's most dominant attacking midfielder currently prowling the pitches, opened the scoring in the twenty-sixth minute with a magnificent far-post header past the stone-footed Petr Cech. The cross came in from Wes Brown after a beautiful give-and-take down the left flank with the timeless Paul Scholes...

 

The play quickly warmed up after that. Chelsea nearly had the equalizer in the thirty-third as Rio Ferdinand headed backward on his own net with Didier Drogba pressuring the pace. Only Edwin Van der Sar's brilliant save kept United ahead. Then the Red Devils nearly went up by two, but Cech stood firm on both a Carlos Tevez header and the ensuing shot from Michael Carrick off the rebound. As halftime neared, Chelsea regained the momentum, and Michael Essein's shot on goal took several caroms before arriving at the feet of Frank Lampard six yards out. The veteran made no mistakes, expertly striking past Van der Sar to equalize at one-one going into halftime...

 

Chelsea carried the momentum into the second half, pressing into Manchester territory repeatedly but with little effect. The execution to get into scoring position was meticulous, but the finishing was lacking as Essein, Drogba and Michael Ballack all went wide or over. In the seventy-seventh, Drogba shot clean only to see the woodwork keep Chelsea from going ahead. He shot barely wide again in the closing minutes of the second half as well...

 

Extra time failed to determine the victor, with both sides missing clear oportunities...

 

United prevailed in penalties, 6-5...So the match went to penalties. Carlos Tevez struck first and was quickly answered by Michael Ballack. Carrick and Juliano Belletti both converted the in the second round. Cristiano Ronaldo, he of the forty-two goals this season, stepped up to the spot next. Petr Cech, who had slept on Ronaldo's first-half goal, managed a superb save to open the doors for Chelsea. Lampard converted his penalty kick past Van der Sar to put the Londoners up 3-2...

 

Owen Hargreaves and Ashley Cole both converted in the fourth round to keep Chelsea ahead by one. Luis Nani potted in the fifth for Manchester United; after the penalties were tied at four apiece, Chelsea captain John Terry stepped up to face Van der Sar for the chance to be the hero. But Terry's shot struck the post, sending the contest to extra penalties and giving the Red Devils new life...

 

Anderson scored for United; Salomon Kalou answered for Chelsea in the sixth round to keep it knotted at 5-5. Ryan Giggs, an eighty-seventh minute substitute for Paul Scholes, came to the spot in his 759th appearance for Manchester with the opportunity to put his team ahead... and he didn't fail. Nicolas Anelka came to the line for Chelsea, but now it was Edwin Van der Sar who played the hero in the drizzly Moscow evening. Edwin snagged Anelka's blast from the air to give Manchester United the Champions League title, the third in team history and their first of the new millennium...

 

Congratulations to the Red Devils in victory, and to Chelsea for a superb performance in defeat...

 

 

The clay-court season is in full swing as both the men and the women near the start of the French Open at Roland Garros. As I reported last week, the sudden retirement of Justine Henin leaves a gaping hole at the top of the women's draw. Now Lindsay Davenport, a former semifinalist on the red clay and a former world number-one, has withdrawn from the draw citing "personal reasons". Number-one Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli is also looking doubtful after sustaining a wrist injury at the Strasbourg Open, leaving French hopes of a domestic champion waning. This leaves the draw wide open for Serbians Ana Ivanovic (who lost to Henin in last year's final) and Jelena Jankovic (a semifinalist last year who lost to Henin) to take over the Parisien clay. The Russian contingent at the tournament, led by Maria Sharapova, Elena Dementieva and potential dark-horse Dinara Safina -- who beat Henin in Berlin in what turned out to be the retired number-one's final career match en route to the title -- will surely have something to say about this... and while the Williams' sisters will undoubtedly come to play on the clay, I have this gut feeling that we're going to see Safina and Ivanovic trading punches on the clay in the final... though we can't predict this with any certainty until the draw comes out tomorrow.

 

On the men's side, the defending champion DOES remain in the draw. Rafael Nadal will look to make it four in a row in Paris, and he comes in looking as formidable on clay as ever. A blister at the Rome Masters saw him take only his second defeat on the surface in three years, though that is hardly indicative of his play as he has won consistently in the pre-Slam clay season running up to Paris... including avenging the other clay loss of the past two years, defeating Federer on the clay in Hamburg. Federer, despite his lackluster form in the opening months of the season (partly due to a bout of mononucleosis), is coming into better form and will be highly motivated to claim a career Grand Slam at the only tournament which has evaded him throughout his career. Novak Djokovic, the Australian Open champion, could be the greatest threat to Nadal's continued dominance on the clay. Another in the line of Serbs rising through the tennis ranks, Djokovic has the potential to start his own reign atop the sport were he to find his way to victory at Roland Garros. Andy Roddick, meanwhile, has withdrawn from the tournament, while guys like Nikolai Davydenko and Nicolas Almagro are on great clay form and could prove spoilers. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the man defeated by Djokovic in Melbourne, will undoubtedly also be hungry to validate his rise in his national Slam. But I would imagine that, should the draw play out correctly, we'll see Nadal and Djokovic meeting at some point in an epic contest, the winner of which should move on to claim the hardware...

 

 

The Giro d'Italia rolls on through Italy on its corsa rosa on its march toward Milan. Now nearing the end of the second week, Quick Step's Giovanni Visconti still remains in the maglia rosa after finishing in the peloton at the end of today's stage twelve, a 172-kilometer slog through northern Italy. The race finished in the village of Carpi near Modena with one of the most sensational sprints in the rain in years. Daniele Bennati held on for a photo-finish victory over the surging Mark Cavendish for his third stage victory of the Giro. The judges determined that THREE MILLIMETERS separated the two at the finishing line...

 

It was as close as THIS... ( ) This was, in fact, the SECOND photo finish that Bennati has had to endure this Giro. His stage nine victory over world champion Paolo Bettini had them separated by millimeters as well, with the younger Italian pipping the more-decorated veteran. The action has been hard and heavy in advance of the Alpine stages in the final week. The maglia rosa could easily change hands, even with a nearly ten-minute gap separating first from tenth in the general classification. These stages through the Dolomites and Alps are THAT HARD... one might argue that these climbs -- the Mortirolo, the Gavia, the Stelvio -- are even tougher than those in the Tour de France...

 

Stay tuned for more hard hitting action from Italy as we preview the Milanese finale in next week's issue...

 

 

 Paula Radcliffe, marathon world-record holder, is in doubt for Beijing...Some sad news was released this week. The world-record holder in the women's marathon, Great Britain's Paula Radcliffe, revealed that she has a stress fracture in her femur which puts her place at the starting line of the Olympic marathon in Beijing in jeopardy. Radcliffe, who has had a promising career but failed to complete the 2004 Olympic marathon in Athens and had to pull out of this year's London Marathon, was looking for redemption for her past missteps at the world's biggest marathon and take the gold in China...

 

But this stress fracture changes all that. The 2005 world champion now looks at a long road to recovery. Several experts have already ruled out her chances to compete in Beijing, while Radcliffe herself cautiously proclaims that she is "ninety-percent confident" she could heal and regain fitness in the finite period of time. If she cannot make it, the 34-year-old has not ruled out 2012 for one last go; but this could have been her best opportunity for success, and all signs point to that window being shut. Here's to hoping that Radcliffe can mend herself back into fitness in time to line up at the start representing Great Britain...

 

 

The Stanley Cup playoffs have reached their culmination up to the final round, with the Detroit Red Wings set to host the Pittsburgh Penguins at Joe Louis Arena for game one of the finals on Saturday evening. Pittsburgh and its oft-lauded youth movement spearheaded by homegrown high draft picks such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and Jordan Staal found a relatively easy path through the Eastern Conference finals, taking only fourteen games to amass twelve victories. They made short work of last year's Eastern Conference champion, the Ottawa Senators, in the first round; in the conference semifinals, they plowed through the New York Rangers; and they finished their conference final against their in-state nemesis, the Philadelphia Flyers, in a 6-0 game five rout. If the kids needed a learning curve, they have reached the stage of astronomical exponential growth...

 


Detroit, meanwhile, has had a battle through the Western Conference to arrive at this point. They found Nashville's home ice vexing, allowing the series to become knotted at two, before closing out their first round matchup with the Predators in six games. Detroit then faced perennial nemesis Colorado in a watered-down version of grudge matches past. The Red Wings dominated the Avalanche, winning every game handily (including the final by an 8-2 score). In the conference final, Detroit again allowed Dallas to gain false hope before being forced to finish off the series in a sixth game on the road...

 

If I were a betting man -- and I've been a betting man for years -- I'd be looking at the Penguins to go no more than five games in this contest. The Cup should be returning to the Steel City for the first time since 1992, an amazing turnaround for what only five years ago was a beleaguered franchise on the verge of relocation... However, if the Penguins allow this to go to a sixth game, the Red Wings will polish them off in that contest as well as game seven in Detroit. We are certain to get excitement and incredible hockey regardless of the outcome...

 

 

And with that we bring this, we'll bring the tenth edition of A Non-Traditional Sports Fan in America to a close. Remember to leave your thoughts below... you CAN have a say in how this obscure sports news is reported to you every week... and keep expanding your mind to the world of sporting possibilities out there in the cerebral vortex of life...

 

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