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The Toe Poke
By ESPN Staff

ESPNsoccernet Press Pass blog: When in Rome...

Rome: The aftermath

Dave Roberts' blog: Wednesday May 27th

Well the Champions League trophy's gone to Spain but it's Ikea who's won. Walking around the Olimpico I couldn't believe that all security personel were given Ikea rubbish bins to sit on, don't believe me? Have a look at the photo, hundreds of them overturned to be used as a seat.

I know you're thinking I've tried to pull a fast one, but it's true, I checked the labels on the base of the bins and they were Ikea buys.

Anyway, enough of that. Barca were great, United stiffened faster than superglue. The opening 10 minutes looked as though it was going to be a cake walk, but as soon as Samuel Eto'o whammed it into Edwin Van der Sar's near post, United folded quicker than a 1000 card pyramid.

As for the ball, it was nice to see my early game observation of the new technology failing abysmally picked up by the world news wires and at least they gave credit to ESPN. During warm up Van der Saar had huge problems with the ball swerving the moment it left Cristiano Ronaldo's boot - although he wasn't the first.

The new pimples to help control in wet conditions played havoc with it in the air. The particles grab hold of the air aerodynamically and make it move un-naturally in flight, so it quickly becomes a nightmare for keepers.

Interesting observation in the 'Flash Zone' after the game (this is where we do the interviews with players when they leave the pitch.) Sir Alex Fergusson walked down and no-one had the balls to ask him for an interview, as reporters were frightened of the United boss. Poor not-so-old Pep Guardiola though, he hadn't even left the steps leading into the interview area and reporters were all over him, grabbing his arm, shoulder, leg, anything to try and get him to the interview position.

I giggled at the thought of what would have happened if they'd tried it with Sir Alex. I got smart with him once, at Sunderland after a 2-0 win. He didn't like one of my questions so had a go at me and walked off a live TV interview. So can you imagine someone grabbing hold of him?

Anyway, congrats Barca. I did pick them at the start of the competition so… "Ya boo sucks" those who had a go at me for doing so. It's now 4.20am and I have to be awake in 2 hours to catch a flight home, so bye for now and best of health. See ya!

Rome: Day 5

Dave Roberts' blog: Wednesday May 27th

Like the players it's a relaxed start to matchday for us here in Rome. Team meeting at 12 noon where the last minute details of schedules and technical stuff are passed on. My questions revolve around the timings of my live pitchside reports into the ESPN pre-game programme and how my audio kit will work during the game as I pass on insight and reports from two yards behind the goal, in front of the Manchester United supporters.

I brush up on the latest FIFA laws and procedures for kicks from the penalty spot (penalty shoot out) and I'm surprised that there is no mention of teams having to inform the referee of the order of the first five takers. It was something we refs were always taught to do, so either this requirement has beem recently removed, or, it was always a suggested item, not law.

With less than six hours to go to kick off, the good news is the threat of rain has gone. The forecast here in Rome is for sunshine and clear skies, there are only a few small clouds over the Eternal City, no doubt there'll be one huge one around 11pm - whether it's Spanish or English only time will tell.

I've also just finished a little research on the ref, Massimo Busacca of Switzerland. Last year he refereed United against Barca in the semi-final first leg. His performance then suggests he likes to give the players the responsibility of their actions rather than trying to take control, unless it becomes essential.

There were over 30 fouls in that game, he handed out only two yellow cards. Refs are taught to give players only a couple of chances before pulling out a yellow for persistent infringement, so with 30+ fouls called, he could easily have had more.

Rome: Day 4

Dave Roberts' blog: Tuesday May 26th

An interesting day, interviews with fluffy versions of Messi and Puyol, having the micky taken out of me by drunken United fans and then listening to both Sir Alex and Pep Guardiola.

The fluffies came at the Colosseum when I was looking for United and Barca fans to interview for the Champions League preview show on ESPN 2 in the United States. No fans but two familiar looking mascots appeared from nowhere, seven foot tall Lionel Messi and Carlos Puyol. A bizarre interview, asking who is better - Ronaldo or Messi? - our fluffy Argentinian gave himself the thumbs up.

Unfortunately the Barca skipper missed the boat, whether it was my Teesside accent or good soundproofing in the costume 'Big Man Carlos' gave himself the thumbs down despite being given three attempts to sing his own praises. I'm pleased to see the real Carlos Puyol performed better in the evening Barcelona news conference.

Then it was off to 'Fergies Fields' to canvass the thoughts of United fans ahead of the big game. Fergies Fields is a camp site with a difference, it has a tent like entertainment centre, restaurant license (which means it can serve beer) and the tent/caravan field attached.

In the thick of the United fans and just as the camera started to roll I let it slip that I was a Boro fan. "We'll never play you again" came the chant as I bravely battled the singing to conduct the interview. Thanks guys, relegation's just the thing I need to be reminded about.

To the Olimpico then. Sir Alex was well behaved in the news conference, not even latching onto the rather lame question: "What do you need to win the game?" A normal Fergie would have snapped back "One more goal than them", but he bit his tongue and offered something more useful to the assembled scribes.

Then Guardiola, what a decent bloke he seems - which probably means he's a git with the players, just ask Samuel Eto'o - taking questions in various languages and proving his command of the English language is far better than my golf swing.

He promises that Barca will attack United, no holding back. He also demanded UEFA/FIFA/et al water pitches prior to big games to speed up the playing surfaces to increase the enjoyment for fans, again, what a good bloke. I'd buy him a pint in the Four Halls anytime.

Whilst there I sussed out my live pitchside reporter's position, also the after game interview position, so I know what I'm doing. Come on get it on! Big game tomorrow and at least Boro will have one representative there.

See ya soon!

Tommy Smyth's Blog: Tuesday May 26th

Here I am in Rome and it is blistering hot. No sign of fans for the game yet. I saw several Man Utd fans on the flight from NY. Who said soccer is not big in the USA? The fans are here from the U.S. before the fans from England!

The Rome situation is like the World Cup in the USA in '94. I was doing radio interviews for Irish radio stations who were all telling me there was no interest in the Ireland vs. Italy game. I kept saying then it should be easy to get me a couple of tickets. There was not a ticket to be found. Same here in Rome. There are no fans, but not a ticket to be found.

My taxi driver told me that United can't win because he says that Ronaldo plays like a girl. He told me United need a player like Totti - he was a Roma fan. When I said: 'Yes, Totti is good, but Roma are not in the Champions League next year and United (with Ronaldo) won last year and maybe this year as well'; adding: 'Which team would you rather be supporting?' He stopped the taxi and made me get out. So I don't know what his answer was going to be.

Derek Rae's Blog: Tuesday May 26th

It's another scorcher here in the Italian capital. It's so hot that even a five minute walk down to the supermarket at the front of my hotel for bottles of water is not something to be rushed, especially the trip back up the hill!

Really we in the media are all in sit and wait mode. Sit in as cool a spot as you can find and wait for tonight's training sessions and news conferences at the Stadio Olimpico. Manchester United will train first and then Barcelona.

We'll be watching with keen interest to see how Rio Ferdinand and the Barca pair, Andres Iniesta and Thierry Henry come through their respective sessions. I would be a little surprised if both Iniesta and Henry are fit to start, although for the sake of the final, I hope I'm wrong.

In addition to the general allure of Barcelona against Manchester United tomorrow, let's not forget that the winners will strike a blow for their own domestic league. At the moment, Spain, England and Italy are all locked together on 11 European Cup or Champions League triumphs.

Most of us here are assuming that United will be along similar lines to the team that played Arsenal off the park in the semi-final second leg with Giggs or Scholes in for the suspended Fletcher. The only problem with that is that Sir Alex frequently bowls some sort of managerial googly with his starting eleven in an attempt to blind-side the opposition.

I'm having a hard time seeing where that googly could be. More from me later.

Rome: Day 3

• Dave Roberts' blog: Monday May 25th

Team arrival day really kicks in the football aspect of these tournaments. Forget the messing around we do in the early days with Italian ice cream, gladiator costumes, etc. When Cristiano Ronaldo walks into town, the town sits up and takes notice.

I had a three hour wait outside the Manchester United team hotel before the police escort swept the posh looking team coach into the emergency fire lane at the hotel on Rome's Piazza della Reppublica.

TV cameras whirred, hundreds of mobile phone cameras clicked, girls screamed and bodies of all shapes and sizes pushed forward to get a glimpse of the United stars. One Italian teenage girl had done her homework, a small handwritten poster read in perfect Portuguese 'Come to my house tonight Ronaldo'. I'm sure he didn't see it, and even if he did, I don't think she is his type.

The stand in joke is that the plush hotel, one of Italy's best, has a McDonalds on the corner of the building, so Wayne Rooney will be happy then.

Pep Guardiola doesn't like arriving at a game venue too early, so his Barca side doesn't arrive until Tuesday, the plane landing at lunchtime. Then it's a quick turnaround for Messi & Co, training in the Stadio Olimpico and a press conference to attend that evening.

After all this excitement it was back to the touristy stuff, the Pantheon is one of the better preserved ancient buildings. Built by Augustus as a temple it was burnt to the ground in the great fire only to be re-built by Emperor Hadrian - yes the guy who built the wall separating England and Scotland.

The Romans, obviously feeling a little guilty about the lion thing, then gave the Pantheon to the Christians to be used as a church.

This act of charity saved the building from falling into ruin and is the sole reason it stands in such great shape today. Just off the square is a famous restaurant - Da Fortunato - walls bedecked with pictures of the world's most famous; Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton as well as current Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi, all shown posing for the camera with the grub house owner.

The food's pretty decent, but I'm reliably informed pretty steep as well, I wasn't paying but dining looking at the Pantheon was very special.

• Derek Rae's blog: Monday 25 May

If you're getting ready to board one of the many charter flights from Manchester to Rome, and like me, you're of fair skin, a word of advice. Make sure there's a plentiful supply of sun block in your suitcase with as high a factor as you can find.

After finishing our morning of filming for ESPNSoccernet Press Pass today from Giancarlo (a beautiful spot looking down on the Eternal City), I enjoyed a very pleasant walk through the friendly cobbled stone streets of Trestavere en route to the historical centre of Rome. The temperature hit 32 Celsius (90 Fahrenheit) at lunchtime today and I was rather glad of that high factor sunscreen as I feasted on my pizza margherita and gelato.

Alas there was little time for sightseeing. The main purpose of the exercise was to buy a SIM card for my top-up phone! Mission accomplished on that front. If anyone else is after the same thing, there are several shops on the Via del Corso in the historical centre to help you out.

The overriding feeling here in Rome is the same feeling I've had ahead of the past three finals (Istanbul in 2005 was different in this respect.) That is, without fans there is no football, and the fans have yet to arrive. That situation should start to change beginning tomorrow, but as usual, the main body of supporters won't arrive until Wednesday itself.

Back to the commentary notes now. Talk to you again tomorrow.

Rome: Day 2

• Dave Roberts' blog: Sunday May 24

One thing I had expected in Italy was organization, the country after all has hosted many major world events, and they could sort out the evening sporting entertainment for Cesar without a hitch, unless you were on the lions' menu.

However entering the country was a nightmare for my US colleagues. Huge queues were the 'Welcome to Italy' many received at Rome's Fiumicino airport. An hour or so later everyone was through and the Azzuri journey had begun.

There shouldn't be any such problems for the expected 50,000 fans as those holding European Union passports are whisked through side doors in the immigration arrivals hall.

There was one sombre moment as we drove from the airport to the capital city, passing road signs to L'Aquila, the town devastated by a recent earthquake.

But once inside Rome, WOW! The architecture was magnificent, 'Augustus & Sons' really knew what they were doing. First stop the Fans Festival, a small affair in the shadow of the Colosseum. Amazing to think 50,000 blood thirsty Romans would cram into this thing for the Christian, lion and gladiator affair. Now the Christians never really stood much of a chance against the king of the jungle, so it was pretty apt to be at the Colosseum when news came through of Boro failing to pull off their miraculous Premier League escape to victory. Needing Newcastle and Hull City to lose and us pummel West Ham in London was a big ask, too big and of course my thanks go to the gang for grabbing the moment as you can see.

The disappointment didn't last long as our focus turned to things Champions League. Fans flocked to the Fans Festival. Tommy Widda Y found a couple of friends from the Old Country but the big surprise was the lack of Barca and United fans. Just one Barcelona supporter was spotted in the throng of the 'Fest', where Roma shirts were predominant, as were wedding couples too. Press Pass was also well represented at the Fan Festival, as you can see - Derek, Tommy & Dave with The Colosseum and Arco di Costantino behind.

More tomorrow...

• Derek Rae's blog: Sunday 25 May

We commentators are a fastidious bunch. It goes with the territory of course but it means we often stand accused of being obsessive about trivial little things by our television production colleagues. Here I am writing to you from one of the world's great capitals and my main preoccupation is not St. Peter's Basilica or the Colosseum, but rather, the Barcelona back four!

Now don't get me wrong, I will make time for a little walk-about in a city I first became acquainted during the 1990 World Cup. But having just arrived on this baking hot Rome Sunday, I'm making all my notes are updated after Barcelona's league match (a 1-0 home defeat!) against Osasuna. Later I'll do the same for Manchester United following their Premier League match away to Hull City.

Both Champions League final participants fielded predominantly fringe players, so why would a commentator bother too much? The answer is that you can never be well enough prepared. The day you don't do your homework on say someone like Barcelona reserve striker Pedro is the day he comes off the bench and scores the decisive goal in the Champions League final. I'm not predicting that outcome for Wednesday by the way, but you get the point.

I'm off to enjoy some of the atmosphere the UEFA Champions Festival with a few workmates. I will leave you with this thought for the day. If you're coming to Rome for the match this week and don't have an EU passport, be prepared for very long queues at Fiumicino Airport. As a British citizen, and hence an EU passport holder myself, I felt very sorry for the people in the 'non-EU nationals' category.

Rome: Day 1

• Dave Roberts' blog: Saturday May 23

An interesting start to the trip and possibly a sign of what's to come, a crazy driver and inter team rivalry at its best - without a Rome Ring Road nor a Barca or Man Utd fan in sight.

Myself and colleagues boarded our mini-bus to take us from ESPN HQ in Connecticut USA to Newark Airport in New York (well New Jersey technically but that's where many NY sports teams are located - Red Bulls, Giants, Jets, etc) for the Alitalia flight to Rome. I've never done the journey in less than 3 hours by car, 120 minutes later, several bouts of ham slicer like thrusts forward and backwards due to Jenson Button acceleration and braking and we were there, in a van too, most impressive.

Suitcases dumped at check-in and we were off to security, the dreaded TSA staff. As the photo shows one of our producers supports the Boston Red Sox (Major League Baseball), sporting the Red B on his hat in New York Yankees territory is like wearing a Rangers shirt on a tour of Celtic Park.

"Get that off" and "Okay you and me can get it on now!" were the words that filled the immediate area, though I did promise the lady checking passports and boarding passes I would provide the necessary counselling once we hit the bar, which we did soon after, only Diet Coke passed my lips, unlike Kev our Red Sox fan. I should have been a diplomat me!

By the look of the floor inside O'Briens Bar and Grill, it had seen better times, our Assistant Director Jason recommended the corned beef sandwich, I bit and it went down like a holed Nautilus, It's now the morning after as I'm about to land in Rome and I still feel the ton weight inside my stomach. Let's hope the Italian fayre is lighter on the tum!

Actual footy and Rome stuff to follow later today, I promise.


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