Raul, Crouch, Adebayor: The good, bad and lucky
The good, the bad and the lucky. What sounds like a movie is really a succinct way to describe how Raul Gonzalez, Peter Crouch and Emmanuel Adebayor marked the Champions League in remarkable or horrible ways this week. Plus, pay homage to Dejan Stankovic, who gave us the goal of the season.
THE GOOD: Depending on how one counts, Raul's goal against Inter Milan on Tuesday was his 71st or 72nd in European club competitions. That means there can be no disputing that the Spanish striker holds Europe's scoring record - either one or two goals ahead of AC Milan forward Filippo Inzaghi.
The confusion depends on whether Raul's winner for Real Madrid against Vasco da Gama in the Intercontinental or Toyota Cup in 1998 counts as ''European.''
Some, like the French sports daily L'Equipe, feel it does not, because the now discontinued annual competition pitted Europe's best teams against counterparts from South America. So L'Equipe counts Raul's goal that gave Schalke the lead in Milan in the 53rd minute on Tuesday as his 71st.
UEFA puts Raul's European tally at 72, including the 1998 goal, with 70 others in the Champions League and one in the Super Cup in 2000.
Inzaghi's 70 were all in strictly European competitions - the Champions League, the UEFA Cup, the Super Cup, the Cup Winners' Cup and the Intertoto Cup.
There was no disputing the artistry of Raul's latest strike. He brought the ball down with his right foot and swiveled in one smooth movement, stayed on his feet against a sliding tackle and shot. Neat.
THE BAD: Nerves? Madness? Certainly stupid. In 15 minutes against West Ham last weekend, Wayne Rooney scored three goals. In 15 minutes Tuesday against Real Madrid, Crouch contrived to get sent off. That was game, and most likely tournament, over for Crouch and his Tottenham teammates, because you cannot hope to beat Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium with just 10 players.
In the second leg next week at home at White Hart Lane, Tottenham will not make up the 4-0 deficit because there's no way Madrid coach Jose Mourinho will let that happen.
Nothing Crouch says will adequately explain why he threw himself into tackles against Sergio Ramos and Marcelo that were not only reckless but pointless, too, because they were inside Madrid's half, where Tottenham wasn't threatened.
The cruel irony of Crouch's folly was that, without him, Tottenham's European adventure might never even have started last August. It was the lanky striker's hat trick over Swiss side Young Boys in a rain-soaked qualifying game that took the London club into the group stage of the Champions League for the first time.
''You never know how good you are until you play against the best teams,'' Crouch said then.
Or how out of you depth you are until the best teams humiliate you.
THE LUCKY: Right now, Adebayor looks like the luckiest man in European football.
Like a discarded bauble in the jewelry box of a wealthy heiress, Adebayor was gathering dust at Manchester City. Manager Roberto Mancini didn't appear to have much use or esteem for the strong and tall Togo attacker recruited from Arsenal in 2009. Adebayor never seemed quite the same after he survived a deadly machine-gun attack on Togo's team bus at the African Cup of Nations in January 2010. When City signed Italy forward Mario Balotelli last August and Bosnia striker Edin Dzeko this January, Adebayor became surplus to requirements.
But, like a cat, Adebayor seems to have several lives and the gift of being able to land on his feet. City loaned him this January to Real Madrid, where Mourinho needed an attacker not only to fill in for the injured Gonzalo Higuain but to make disappointing France striker Karim Benzema work harder, by giving him some competition.
Adebayor is seizing this possibly last solid chance to remind everyone what a predatory and silky goalscorer he can be. For his second against Tottenham, Adebayor hung in the air for what seemed like ages to delicately head Marcelo's cross past flat-footed goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes, who could only watch the ball sail by.
Adebayor is erratic. He has very good days and some very bad. But this time, he made scoring look so easy.
THE GOAL: In a show reel of best goals, Stankovic deserves a place with his score of beauty in a losing cause. The Milan midfielder's right-footed volley almost from the halfway line raced over the head of stranded Schalke goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. The game was only 25 seconds old. Milan still found a way to lose 5-2, which means their defense of the European title is all but over.
David Beckham scored a similar long-range goal for Manchester United in 1996 against Wimbledon with a perfect lob over 'keeper Neil Sullivan. But Stankovic's shot was better because it was volleyed and because he had even less time than Beckham to think. This was pure instinct.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org