Is finishing second in your Champions League group really so bad? 1

Alex Timperley wonders whether finishing second in second in the Champions League group stage is so very awful…

Conventional wisdom says that winning your Champion’s League group is the coolest thing a European club can do. A just reward for coming out and beating some of the best sides in Europe over 6 games. Group winners get the glory, the bragging rights and probably the good whiskey too. They theoretically get a safer route through to the Quarter Finals when drawn against a group runner up as reward for their endeavours (though how gutted would you be if you were drawn against either Arsenal or Manchester City this year?) Pity the poor team who only qualified in second place, to be looked down upon by the mighty European aristocracy/cartel as intruders in their private game. Invaders to be dispensed with before the truly elite fight it out in the Quarter Finals.

Are there any benefits to finishing second at all?

For the love of god, yes!

Teams who finish as runners up are almost guaranteed to play a giant of the European game in the next round, which is clearly the best result. Show me someone who wants to play the relative minnows every round, sneaking through to the final, and I’ll show you a person whose endorphins no longer flow correctly. These statistics rich, imagination poor people gloat about having the most interceptions this year in the League and the highest pass completion rate. The first thing they check after each game is their team’s UEFA coefficient. Their fires have burned too low and gone out. They take no real joy in watching football anymore, the endless Super Sunday adverts, Budweiser FA Cup ribbons and goal music have eroded their souls. But it’s ok! Despite their team losing in the Semi Final, at least they had the majority of possession in the key areas of the pitch! The boring modern football fans to go with the boring modern media trained footballers.

This isn’t school sports day where it’s fun to run faster than your less athletic classmates, and it’s not your data entry job where attracting no negative attention before going home at 5pm counts as a victory. This is the Champion’s League! It’s meant to be the rock and roll marquee tournament, seeing your club play against the biggest, scariest clubs the continent has to offer. It’s fight club. It’s Wrestlemania. Why are we all here if not to see our teams play against the best? Why jump through all the hoops to qualify if you don’t want to fight The Rock?

Furthermore, everybody loves an underdog story, the last charge of the Light Brigade. Think Apoel Nicosia, carrying themselves further than any could have expected. Think Malaga last year who were a rancid refereeing decision away from the final due to inspired football in the face of everything falling apart behind the scenes. Think Borussia Dortmund who reached the final at Malaga’s expense to fight the good fight against an evil empire.

Finishing second in your Champion’s League group is not the end of the world, and in many ways is the best way to have it. Embrace the challenge, embrace the games against the biggest teams and you might just enjoy it enough to remember why the Champion’s League exists in the first place.

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