International Soccer
By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor - Archive - Email
Champions League final tarnished by suspensions
David Alaba is reduced to just a spectator because he was the recipient of three yellow cards.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - You may have never heard of David Alaba, a 19-year-old Austria international who is one of the rising stars in soccer. In just a few days, you should be introduced to him in the Champions League final when Bayern Munich plays Chelsea.

But even if you are, you will not see him play Saturday.

It is your loss, really. Heck, it is a loss for the entire sport.

Thank you, UEFA. Yes, that is more than a hint of sarcasm.

Alaba is not injured, just the victim of UEFA's outdated and harsh card system that has prevented him from playing in a match Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho once said was "bigger than the World Cup."

One of the reasons Bayern overcame midseason struggles to advance to the final at its own Allianz Arena, Alaba is reduced to just a spectator because he was the recipient of three yellow cards over a six-match span.

The third, a harmless sliding challenge when a pass hit his arm, cost him a spot in the final.

At least UEFA has given him plenty of company in the stands as two more Bayern players and four Chelsea players also are suspended for the final. Yes, if you are mathematically challenged, that is seven players total.

And those seven players would all be starters.

OK, John Terry is a fool. So it is easier to accept him missing the final. He received a red card in the second leg of the semifinals against Barcelona for a dumb foul, but it is debatable if it should have cost him the final.

There is no debate about the other six, including Alaba.

He switched from midfield to left back in the middle of the season and was an electric presence. He played so well, it was easy for Bayern Munich boss Jupp Heynckes to keep Philipp Lahm, the captain of Bayern and Germany, on the right side of defense.

Unfortunately, Alaba will be right by his usual partner in defense, as center back Holger Badstuber also is suspended due to accumulated yellows. His third card came in extra time of the second leg of the semifinals against Real.

Again, Badstuber will leave the game without another of the sport's young and emerging stars. He started in the Champions League final in 2010 and has been a regular for Germany for two years, although he is only 23.

But instead of being under the spotlight in UEFA's biggest club match, he has a spot on the sideline. The third of the Bayern players suspended is defensive midfielder Luiz Gustavo, who was called up by Brazil just last year.

A rock defensively for Bayern in midfield as well as an adequate replacement in central defense, he also will miss the final on a third yellow card picked up in extra time of the second leg against Madrid.

More established Brazilian international Ramires, who scored in the semifinals against Barcelona, is among the Chelsea contingent sidelined for the final.

He, too, is out for accumulated yellow cards, joined by midfielder Raul Meireles and defender Branislav Ivanovic, also out for the same reason. Add in Terry, the lone player out for a red card, and the Blues are short-handed as well.

Although Terry, Chelsea's captain, is the most notable, there is no reason to devalue the loss of the other three Chelsea players, either. All were huge for the club this season, as it won the FA Cup and reached the CL final.

Instead of showcasing its best clubs - with full squads - a major final in the sport will once again leave a void left by the absence of players. It is something that has happened in previous Champions League finals, as well as World Cup and Euro finals.

FIFA has changed World Cup rules to erase accumulated yellow cards before the semifinals and the Euro 2012 championships will follow the same format this year. That means a player can only miss the final should he earn a red card in the semifinals of those events.

If UEFA adopted the same change for the Champions League, even over two games of a semifinal series, it would mean yellow cards in each match or a red card would be required to receive a suspension for the final.

Seems like a simple idea and one that would be better for the sport. But UEFA was quick to announce it would not even consider the idea of overturning the bans this season, and at this point, who would have thought otherwise?

But how long will it sit back and ignore the problem?

How long before it realizes taking the best players off the field for the top game of the tournament is not a good idea?

No other sport in the world follows such ridiculous rules. We can only hope it does not reach a point where so many players are suspended, the biggest match in the world will feature reserve players.

UEFA will cave one day and fix this mess, because a change is overdue.

Alaba, Badstuber, Gustavo, Ivanovic, Meireles, Ramires, and, yes, even Terry, know this all too well.

WHO'S OUT, AND WHO'S (LIKELY) IN

BAYERN MUNICH

Suspended: David Alaba, 19, Left Back

Capped 17 times for Austria mainly as a midfielder, Alaba has blossomed into the left back of the future for Bayern Munich this season. He appeared in 46 matches in all competitions, but will miss the biggest one.

Likely replacement: Diego Contento, 22, Left Back

Named after Diego Maradona, Contento does have Champions League experience as he appeared in three matches in 2009-10. But he played in just 14 games in all competitions this season and will need to be sharp in his biggest game ever.

Suspended: Holger Badstuber, 23, Center Back

Badstuber started the Champions League final in 2010 at left back, but later slid into the center and became the first choice for Bayern and Germany. Now, after playing 47 games in all competitions, Bayern will miss his presence.

Likely replacement: Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, 33, Defensive Midfielder

The Ukraine international midfielder will likely have to slide back into the heart of defense, unless Daniel van Buyten - sidelined for four months - can make a miracle return from injury. This position is a concern for Bayern.

Suspended: Luiz Gustavo, 24, Defensive Midfielder

The Brazilian international was the perfect complement to Germany midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger in Bayern's twin holding roles and disrupted Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil of Real Madrid in the semifinals.

Likely replacement: Thomas Muller, 22, Forward/Midfielder

Muller will not directly replace Gustavo, as fellow German international Toni Kroos should leave his attacking midfield role to slide into a more defensive spot. Muller has to start in Kroos' normal spot, making an attack-heavy side.

CHELSEA

Suspended: Branislav Ivanovic, 28, Right Back

Captain of the Serbian national team, Ivanovic would ideally start at right back, but is also a more-than-adequate central defender when needed. But with him out, his role at fullback has to be filled and Chelsea will have concerns.

Likely replacement: Jose Boswinga, 29, Right Back

Boswinga will slot in at right back, but the defensively challenged Portuguese international could be a weakness with France winger Franck Ribery roaming the left wing for Bayern Munich in the final.

Suspended: Raul Meireles, 29, Midfielder

With Portuguese international Meireles suspended, the Blues will be without an intimidating presence in midfield. In addition, Meireles appeared 11 times in the Champions League this season, and contributed two goals and an assist.

Likely replacement: Michael Essien, 29, Midfielder

Essien is one of the most fragile players in the world, but his injury history is also the only reason he's not one of the best. He has not played much this season - just twice in the Champions League - but is world-class if healthy.

Suspended: Ramires, 25, Midfielder

His goal in the Champions League semifinals sunk Barcelona, although Fernando Torres somehow stole the spotlight. A solid two-way player, Chelsea will not find a suitable replacement on its bench for the Brazilian international.

Likely replacement: Daniel Sturridge, 22, Forward/Midfielder

Sturridge may have fallen out of favor with interim manager Roberto Di Matteo, but he still made 30 Premiership appearances this season and seven more in the Champions League. If not him, it's likely Soloman Kalou or Fernando Torres.

Suspended: John Terry, 31, Center Back

Terry missed a potential winning penalty kick in the 2008 final, so there can be no doubt he wanted a chance at redemption. Instead, a red card takes Blues and former England captain out of the lineup and leaves a huge void.

Likely replacement: David Luiz, 25, Center Back

Luiz is the best option, but has been out four weeks with a hamstring injury. Chelsea hopes Luiz can start with Gary Cahill, a starter in the semis who has also been out with a hamstring injury. Both returned to training Tuesday.

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