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“Better Late Than Never”

“Better late than never” is how the old saying goes and that is exactly what happened a week ago when I was preparing for my first Heineken Experience.

I was in the middle of ironing my shirt when Eskom struck, plunging my living room and my planned attire into darkness. Searching through my cupboard by the dim glow of candlelight, I eventually settled on an alternate outfit, locked up my place, and jumped in my car for the trek to Pimville, and more specifically the PDL Carwash, to enjoy Heineken’s lavish UEFA Champions League experience.

I hit the button on my remote to open the gate to my complex, and nothing happened. Ah yes, Eskom. I hopped out the car, knocked on the door of the complex manager, and again, got nothing back. As the only holder of the key to manually override the front gate, the fate of my evening rested in the hands of the aforementioned complex manager, who it turned out was stuck in traffic on his way home from work. An anxious wait ensued, and eventually – just before 8pm – I hit the road to the south.

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It was my first trip to the world-renowned South Western Townships, an area steeped in history. I arrived shortly ahead of kick off, and stepped into a glitzy arena. “This is how the world’s most prestigious club competition should be enjoyed” were my immediate thoughts. I took up my seat, locked my eyes on the big screen set up at the front, and kicked back for FCB versus FCB, Barcelona taking on Bayern Munich, two giants of the beautiful game going head to head in the first leg of the semifinal.

I noticed quite a commotion taking place to my right, with excited chatter and camera flashes aplenty. Through the crowd I noticed a smiling face that looked startlingly familiar. Is that…Deco? Brazilian by birth but a decorated son of Portugal, a two time winner of the Champions League, having won Ol’ Big Ears with Porto and Barca. And there he was, sat 10 meters away from me!

HeinekenDeco

Unashamedly star struck, I’ll admit it was rather difficult to stay focused on the evening’s main attraction unfolding at the Nou Camp. Lionel Messi and co were doing their utmost to gain the advantage out on the pitch, but right there, in that moment, a diminutive Portuguese star occupied the majority of my attention. As a lifelong Gooner, I will never forget the role Deco played in one of the most painful nights of my life, as part of the Barca squad that came back from a goal down to condemn my beloved Arsenal to 2nd place in the 2006 Champions League final. But I let bygones be bygones, and I’ll admit I was honored merely to be watching the match in the presence of such a decorated star of the modern game.

While the first half was goalless, it was a fascinating contest nonetheless. This was football the way it should be played. Tactical game plans executed to perfection by two teams packed with stars employing the highest level of technical excellence. Normally when I watch a Barca game, it’s a case of how long the opposition can keep the Blaugrana at bay before the floodgates open. But to witness ze Germans going toe to toe with Barca was a joy to behold.

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At the highest level of sport, the margins between winning and losing often come down to a 0.5% difference. And in the second half, a little Argentine was that 0.5%. The football world has run out of superlatives for Lionel Messi, and after he tore Jerome Boateng to shreds before expertly chipping Manuel Neuer to make it 2-0 to Barca, I imagine football journo’s around the world were flipping through their dictionaries desperately seeking a way to describe the genius of the little man. He played in Neymar late on to round off a 3-0 win, effectively ending the semifinal as a contest bar a second leg miracle at the Allianz.

Unfortunately I had to make my way home shortly after the final whistle so I couldn’t revel in the post-match festivities Heineken had planned for their guests. I drove home grinning from ear to ear after an evening of spectacular football enjoyed in spectacular style. “Better late than never” is how the old saying goes. And how apt the saying proved to be.

Follow me on Twitter @aziz_jacobs and share your views and banter on tonight’s game between Real Madrid & Juventus.

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