A question from a Chinese soccer fan (minor editing throughout):
"This morning, Barcelona beat AC Milan in a European soccer match. 'Barcelona took a step towards the Champions League final when a Ludovic Giuly goal earned them a 1-0 win over AC Milan at the San Siro stadium in their semi-final, first-leg match on Tuesday,' Reuters reported. My question is: why is it described as a 'first-leg' match? I am a soccer fan. I know what it means in Chinese （首回合）. Why is it called 'first leg' in English, instead of 'first round'?"
An excellent question, considering you're a soccer fan. Only an intelligent soccer fan is able to ask such a question. In fact, only a Chinese soccer fan capable of it, I think.
Also, probably only Chinese fans are baffled by it. It has to do with the fact that the Chinese language is beautiful and often vague, whereas English is beautiful and always specific. Relatively speaking, of course.
In Chinese, 回合 is good enough to describe any phase of match-up in sports, be it a soccer match or a boxing bout. In English, even though "round" and "leg" are the same in meaning, they are not interchangeable in use. Not in this case, at any rate.
The difference between the two words lies in the different connotations each gives. "Round" for instance implies "fullness" and "completion". With "leg", the emphasis is on the fact that it's incomplete. The semifinal round of the Champions League is a two-match affair, each team get to play at home once. The first game is hence called the first leg, the other match second leg. Only after the two legs, the semifinal round itself is considered complete.
A person has two legs. One leg is "incomplete". Two legs are. This may not be how the expression came to be, but it may help with your understanding.
A lot of times with English words, it's best to forget what their Chinese equivalents are. The Chinese language for instance does not distinguish the single with the plural. There's a Hollywood film titled "Mr. No Legs". I remember back in the 1980s, when we were asked to re-tell the story, many of my fellow students keep calling it "Mr. No Leg", out of loyalty to Chinese linguistics. In English, the difference is huge. Mr. No Leg is another person altogether - he has one leg missing. Mr. No Legs, on the other hand, had lost both legs.
The Barca-Milan match is one of two UEFA (Union of European Football Federations) Champions League semifinals. The semifinals are two-legged events to allow each team to play at home in front of their own supporters. The first leg was played at the San Siro (a stadium AC Milan shares with local rivals Inter Milan). The teams move to play the second leg a week later at the Nou Camp in Barcelona. Overall winners of this two-leg event move on to face winners of the other semifinal between Arsenal (England) and Villarreal (Spain) in the final.
The final, however, will be a one-game event, to be played at a mutual venue. This year's Champions League final will be played in Paris, on May 17.
Lest further questions be asked on the subject, let me lay out for you the competition format of the Champions League, the top club competition in Europe, played among 32 top teams from different countries. It consists of two phases, or stages. The first phase is the group stage, with teams divided into eight groups, four teams in each. There are six "round-robin" group matches to be played, each team playing other teams twice, once at home, once away.
The best two teams from each group advance to what is called the knock-out stage, lasting of four rounds (the last-sixteen round, the quarterfinals, semifinals, and the final). Teams with greater number of goals scored advance to the next round. In case both teams score the same number of goals, the one with more away goals (scored at the opponents' home pitch) advance. In the event that both teams have the same away goals after 90 minutes of play in the second leg, an extra time of two 15-minute periods is played. If a clear winner is still not found, a penalty shootout takes place. All knock-out stage games are two-legged affairs except the final, as explained earlier.
If you find this bewildering and boring, that's perfectly right - you're not a soccer fan.
If you are a soccer fan and find it bewildering, that's not surprising, either. However, a soccer fan wants to know all the details (if he doesn't already), and in fact, the more trivial the information, the better. All bragging rights, you know.
This dedication to meaningless detail has led many hardcore soccer fans to become really ignorant people, who grow quite oblivious to other things going on in the family, the work place or the world in general.
These fans are nuts.
Only to people who are not soccer fans, of course, not to a fellow ignoramus (another fan).
A top-rank professional boxing match has 12 rounds, or instance. Each round lasts three minutes. In between each round there's one-minute break, for players to catch a breath and have cuts and wounds looked after. Each round stands on its own, even though all the rounds put together completes a match.