Yesterday the great and good of Eurosport 'experts' from across the continent were asked for their predictions for the Milan v Barcelona tussle. All seven went fairly emphatically for a Barcelona win.
Sample quote (from our red-faced British correspondent): "No one has worked out how to stop Messi yet."
This tells us one of two things: either our experts have much less insight than ED's bosses give them credit for, or Milan's 2-0 victory in the first leg of the Champions League last-16 tie was a truly unforeseeable event. ED knows which of the two scenarios it prefers as it prepares to taunt its colleagues over a tepid baked potato in the canteen.
Certainly in the build-up to the game, this was treated as a David and Goliath contest, never mind the fact that Milan have won the European Cup seven times to Barca's three.
The suspicion that Serie A ain't what it used to be, allied with the reverence with which Barcelona are treated, had painted the Catalans as an irresistible force going into this contest. But are we to be surprised that arguably Italy's grandest club was able to stifle their opponents and deny them the space to create much in the way of chances? This was a triumph of Catenaccio over Tiki-taka.
Milan's success in suppressing Messi, Iniesta, Fabregas et all was reminiscent of another great Barca setback, Inter's magnificently negative display at Camp Nou in 2010 that saw them lose 1-0 on the night but go through 3-2 on aggregate. If you remember, a rather ungracious Barca turned on the sprinklers in disgust as Jose Mourinho danced across the turf in celebration.
This was arguably better. Milan were at home of course, giving them a considerable advantage, but they restricted Barca to so few proper chances while being impressively clinical themselves - with goals from Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntati staging a mini-Portsmouth revival that would have warmed the heart of Harry Redknapp were he not staring relegation in the face.
If you remember, Inter only crept through in the end due to a harsh handball decision that ruled out a late, late goal from Bojan, and Milan are likely to require some luck of their own when they travel to Camp Nou for the return leg. Taking a two-goal lead to Barcelona is as much of a done deal as Peter Odemwingie's move to QPR. You certainly can't count on it.
Milan can congratulate themselves on a job well done for now. But there is still plenty to do - with Massimiliano Allegri demonstrating the power of Barca's reputation when remaining extremely cautions despite what is a fantastic scoreline to take from the first leg.
"The boys deserved this result. They didn't give anything away at a defensive level and they made the most of the chances we had," he said. "We made some mistakes in the first half but we improved a lot in the second... the tie is very open."
This has been a transitional season for Milan. In the summer they lost a good chunk of their squad in a cull of veterans that was positively Michael Jackson-esque in its desperate determination to recapture lost youth. Out went Clarence Seedorf, Alessandro Nesta, Filippo Inzaghi and Rino Gattuso, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva joined PSG to take a huge chunk out of the wage bill too.
Milan are a younger, sleeker, cheaper model this year. Only in recent weeks have they started to really hit some kind of form, with Allegri withstanding serious pressure - not least from owner Silvio Berlusconi, who prior to the Barca game offered his own tactical advice.
"It will be very difficult to beat Barcelona," the former Italian Prime Minister told RTL 102.5."I still haven’t found the time to talk to boss Allegri, but I won’t tell him what side to pick – I've never done that. I know the role of the president and that of the coach – I respect those – but a president has the right to give advice to his coach. On this occasion my suggestion would be that Messi is man-marked."
Allegri didn't quite follow his president's advice but perhaps he will now be relied upon to come up with his own strategies after a win that no one expected. It was a result that also popped the bubble of invulnerability that has grown around Barca following a facile league campaign in Spain and should make the Champions League a lot more interesting this season.
Oh, and a little less predictable of course.
- - -
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “We didn’t think it would be so easy. We know Arsenal are having some problems in the league, maybe they are lacking in confidence. But we feel good and we’re delighted to have got that result." - Franck Ribery rubs it in as he basks in the glory of Bayern Munich's 3-1 win over Arsenal on Tuesday night.
FOREIGN VIEW: Alessandro Del Piero confirmed the worst kept secret in Australian football on Thursday when the former Italy and Juventus great said he would be staying for a second year at Sydney FC. Despite reported interest from clubs in Brazil and the United States, Del Piero said there had never been any real doubt that he would stay on. "It was a big challenge for me, for my family, to take a long trip here and change everything in our life," he told a news conference against a backdrop of the Sydney Opera House. "My family and I have had a great time here. The weather, the city, everything is good. But first of all, I'm here to play. It's a challenge. I work to win the challenge, I want to win again next year."
COMING UP: It's the big one: Chelsea continue the defence of their Champions League trophy with a huge tie against Sparta Prague at Stamford Bridge. Oh, hang on, that's not quite right. Anyway, we have live coverage of the match, with Chelsea leading 1-0 from the first leg, as well as the ties between Metalist Kharkiv and Newcastle (0-0), Lyon and Tottenham (1-2) and Liverpool and Zenit St Petersburg (0-2).
We also have Jan Molby's column and the first part of our exclusive two-part interview with Stoke City manager Tony Pulis.