Johannesburg - A search on the internet told me that the expression “never say never” was first recorded in Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers in 1837.
Remember him? He is the fellow who gifted us with A Tale of Two Cities, which opens with a line about the best of times and the worst of times.
I defy Dickens’ expression and proclaim that I probably will never witness another soccer match like the Uefa Champions League Round of 16’s second-leg clash between FC Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain.
As a long-in-the-tooth follower of the game of the pigskin, I have experienced many unbelievable moments.
None, however, can come close to Wednesday night’s titanic battle.
Three required goals
Barça went into the encounter trailing the Parisians by four goals from the first leg.
After starting like a house on fire, and taking a 3-0 lead, one thought the wind had been taken out of the determined bunch of Barcelona players when Uruguayan international marksman Edinson Cavani scored a cracker of a goal to bring the aggregate scoreline to 4-3.
What this meant was that the home side now needed three more goals to advance to the quarterfinals, and, by the look of things, there would not be enough time for this to happen.
Little did we know what surprise the soccer gods had in store for us.
History books will tell us and our children and their children that Barça somehow managed to get the three required goals and ... the rest is history.
The victory makes for an interesting reading of Luis Enrique’s Barcelona managerial record at home in the Champions League, as the Catalans have now won all 15 matches at Camp Nou – scoring 50 goals in the process and only conceding seven.
This is an impressive record by any standards.
It makes true the idea of a team’s homeground being its foe’s “slaughterhouse”.
Ball has been kicked
As Lionel Messi braced himself for that crucial penalty kick at the beginning of the second half, I thought of a recent incident in South African football.
The two giants of Mzansi football were locked at one-all with a few minutes to go. Then the one was awarded a penalty that would have sealed the game.
The taker sent in a weak shot that was placed so closely to the goalkeeper, who had begun to go the wrong way, that he managed to save it with his outstretched foot.
We were taught as juniors that when taking a penalty kick, you must place it as far away from the goalkeeper and as close to the goalpost as possible.
If you do this, there is no way a goalkeeper – who, by the way, is not allowed to move until the ball has been kicked – can make the distance and pull a save.
Being awarded a penalty kick is like being asked to knock down a person whose feet are tied and whose hands are held from behind.
Any player calling themselves a professional who misses a penalty should be fined.
Professional players have no business missing penalties.
But, then again, the word “professional” is used too loosely in this country. More often than not, there is nothing professional about our players.
The one thing that South African players must learn from Barcelona is that you play for the club, no matter who the coach is.
It is evident that the Barcelona players value the badges on their shirts so much that they are prepared to die with their boots on.
This is a foreign concept among South African players – sadly, even when they play for the national team.
If this wasn’t the case, we wouldn’t be witnessing an Orlando Pirates team going through 11 matches without a win on the club’s 80th anniversary.
It is high time that South African players took responsibility for their floundering reputations.
Maybe we as the media have been harsh on administrators and coaches, while letting the real culprits – the players – get away with murder.
This must come to an end.
Follow me on Twitter @Sbu_Mseleku