In India: The eyes of the nation turn toward Hyderabad this evening for the Cricket finals, when the Mumbai Indians meet the Rising Pune Supergiant, the Indian Premier League's two best teams, in an IPL Grand Final showdown fit for the ages. Bombay is facing a jinx today: not since Rajasthan Royals in 2008, has the team at the top of the standings at season's end been crowned champions. With playoffs this week, both teams must feel some fatigue, but no more, perhaps, than players of test cricket would suffer, in their five day affairs. Mumbai beat Calcutta in Bangalore on Friday, but have lost three times to the Rising Pune Supergiant this season. Pune started the season terribly,
with a 1-3 record, but roared back to the top of their
division. Unfortunately, two of their best
players, Ben Stokes and Imran Tahir,
have departed to prepare for the upcoming England-South Africa one-day
Mumbai have the chance to become the first team to win the IPL three times since its inception, but there is that jinx, isn't there? and this one not just from Pokemon. Bombay last won against the Rising Pune last season. Rising Pune have kept a lid on Mumbai's power players; Rohit and Kieron Pollard average 20.66 and 14.33 against them this season. The top team in the standings may not prevail, again this year, and the premiers may very well be the Rising Pune Supergiant at the end of the evening.
The proverbial soccer ball rubber is to hit the road today inmany European countries, in this last weekend of the regular season. The games are not really the prime interest today, as sporting competitions. Truly, the matchups are rather uninteresting. The true interest of the day lies in the great suspense over the entire continent remains with the standings, who will finish first? The other question being asked this last day of competition is who will beat relegation?
Real Madrid travel to Malaga knowing they need just a point to win La Liga, but chastened with a bit of history. Twenty-four years ago, they flew to Tenerife with the title in their hands, only to bottle it and hand the crown to Barcelona. What if it happens again? This is the question that all of Spain asks, especially fans of the royals. At 8 p.m., local time, Barcelona, who has been on fire in recent weeks, face Eibar at the Camp Nou. At the same time, Madrid travel to Malaga needing just a tie, a single point, to win the league for the first time in five years. They have won five straight games since losing to Barcelona last month. Four goals against Sevilla and four more against Celta Vigo brought them to this point. Cristiano Ronaldo, having missed intermittent games this season, is rested and ready, and tan, as always. They are close now, playing this mediocre team, but they are filled with apprehension, could they jinx it? Even the famous Zinedine Zidane, Real Madrid coach refuses to speak of the game as a done deal: "It's not done," he has warned his team, and the public. Malaga, of course, with practically the rest of the Castilian speaking world, despises Barcelona, so there would be some comfort in not winning or in a draw. The Malaga coach's son plays for Eibar, so will be playing his heart out against Barcelona, and meanwhile, Michael Gonzalez, who has appeared in these pages, was a member of the Real Madrid team which lost at Tenerife. Certainly, the games themselves are not of prime interest today... but oh the drama.
In Italy, the ratios in the standings have been rather stagnant in recent weeks. As this weekend started, Juventus remained four points ahead of Roma, who remained one point ahead of Napoli, with Lazio ten points behind them. Juventus comes off a Coppa Italia victory, Wednesday, against Lazio, having reached that honor through a kind of internal season tournament. Still the season continues today, with final games, wrapping up everything tomorrow. Today's competitions became more interesting as a result of Roma's convincing 5-3 win over Chievo last night, to bring them within a point of Juve in the standings. The game was uninteresting, with Chievo ahead 1-0 for a good part of it, until the goal makers got busy and turned mediocre into thrilling. Napoli pulled within two points of Juve, and one of Roma, with their victory over Fiorentina last night 4-1. Fiorentina, at seventh place, had slim hopes themselves, of making next year's Europa league, but....
So, today, all eyes look toward Juventus, who, this afternoon at 3, face Crotone, who in turn face possible relegation. Crotone is a newly promoted team who stumbled greatly early in the season, but which has since then been picking up points. Juventus, with a win, will go out on top of the Serie A, and win a place of respect throughout Europe. Crotone, with a few points, will avoid going down into relegation along with Palermo and Pescara, giving that place of dubious honor to Genoa or Empoli, who are just ahead of them in the standings. Oh the drama.
In the Bundesliga (yawn) Bayern Monaco has won in the standings. How many weeks ago was that? Yesterday, in final day competitions, Bayern Monaco was celebrating a historic fifth Bundesliga title in succession. They bid farewell to retiring legends Philipp Lahm and Xabi Alonso (featured in these pages) with a 4-1 win over Freiburg. Hamburg SV beat VFL Wolfsburg 2-1 to avoid relegation, this season. Yeah Hamburg. That result means Wolfsburg faces a two-leg playoff against the third-place finisher in the second division -- all but certain to be Eintracht Braunschweig -- to determine which side plays in the Bundesliga next season, and which team ends up in second division. In England, the real battle of the day is for fourth place in the standings, which Arsenal has always felt was theirs by right. Fourth place has a bid to next year's Champion's League competition. Liverpool may play the spoiler this year, though, and they desperately want fourth place...
In Rome, in International Tennis: Novak Djokovic, in what he described as his "best performance of the year" overcame having to play twice in a day before cruising into his eighth final of the Rome Masters with a ruthless 6-1, 6-0 win over Dominic Thiem on Saturday. Thiem had knocked Rafael Nadal out in the quarter-finals, so such dominance came as a complete surprise. Djokovic, a four-time champion in Rome, was forced to finish his quarter-final over Juan Martin del Potro earlier in the day after their match was rained off late on Friday. Sunday, he will play in the final match against Germany’s rising star Alexander Zverev. Zverev, 20, became the youngest player in a decade to reach a Masters final when he clinched a gutsy 6-4, 6-7, 6-1 win over big-serving American John Isner. A 30 year old Serbian, Djokovic was swept aside by Nadal in the semi-finals of the Madrid Masters, but remains unbeaten in Rome semi-finals (8-0) and took his tournament record to 41-6. Watch for an exciting final match Sunday!