|photo by scottfeldstein||via PhotoRee|
Pep Guardiola was back in his modified Devo costume last night as Barcelona and Real Madrid played for the second time in four days, this time at the Camp Nou in Barcelona, Spain. I don't know about you, but these 'Clasicos' are seeming more like 'Commonos' with their seemingly regular occurences.
Once again, Los Madrilenos came out of the blocks flying, peppering Barcelona 'keeper Victor Valdes right from the game's outset. Jose Mourinho had obviously amped up his side to compete physically with the smaller Catalans, who were dominated in Madrid earlier this week, nevermind the final 2-2 scoreline. Indeed, the Blaugrana's performance at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday left more than a few fans and journos alike scratching their pates wondering what happened to the vaunted Barca possession game.
On Wednesday night, it was Cristiano Ronaldo channelling the King, Eric Cantona, with his upturned collar striking fear in the hearts of the Catalan defenders in the early action. Barcelona countered with a King of their own, as Lionel Messi slotted in Andres Iniesta, who chipped Real goaltender Iker Casillas to give the Catalans an early lead in the same casual manner you or I might take a Sunday stroll on the beach.
Ronaldo evened matters less than five minutes later, as a rare Eric Abidal concentration lapse managed to keep Los Merengues onside, with the Portuguese wonderman tapping in a brilliant Karim Benzema delivery to knot the scoreline at one.
Pushing far up the pitch may have meant constant pressure and offensive chances for the visitors, but it also left their defense open to the ever-dangerous counter-attack, as well. As if trying to prove that last point, Pedro almost immediately tilted the match back in favor of the Catalans, but Casillas showed his quality in denying the young winger.
Real Madrid continued to take the game straight at the Blaugrana, in stark contrast to the procession of four dour matches these two sides played back in April, which were notable mostly for featuring more quality diving than the Chinese Olympic team. Cristiano rattled the crossbar, Mesut Ozil mishit his final work product, while Karim Benzema finally showed why he's begun to play his way into The Special One's long-term plans.
At the other end, Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta seemed to be taking on the boys in white almost singlehandedly -- and not doing too badly at it, either. So you can imagine that it came as no surprise to Jose Mourinho when the Golden Boy broke the deadlock just before halftime, chipping St. Iker off a beautiful backheel from Gerard Pique -- and I thought the latter was a defender.....
The first half action was compelling and frenetic, and although the two teams went into the locker rooms having produced only three goals, there was enough action and entertainment in the first half to fill several matches in their entirety.
The second half was marred with fouls and ill will, bringing back to the surface an ugly reminder of the teams' prior meetings. As time ticked down on Real's opportunities, even Couch Mou was forced from his comfortable sideline recliner to add an extra sense of urgency to his side's efforts. Although Kaka's first contribution upon his introduction to the match was to offer a comically short corner, no Blaugrana fans were laughing at Karim Benzema's ultimate equalizer. Finally stabbing home a short ball that ricocheted around the box like a pinball, the Frenchman's ugly goal was more than beautiful to the All Whites and their supporters.
In the end, though, it should really come as no surprise as to how this match was settled: with a Lionel Messi wonder goal and an ugly hissy fit of a fight. The Argentinian wonder boy volleyed home a beauty of a winner to give the Catalans a third straight Cup before the proceedings devolved into the farce that is becoming typical of this embittered rivalry. Even newcomer Cesc Fabregas was not immune to the Swoon Fever encircling the Barcelona camp, writing around uncomfortably after being welcomed into Spanish football by Marcelo with a leg cracking tackle.
In the end, though, Arsenal's former Captrain had the last laugh, finally raising a trophy after spending six years of raising nothing more than an envious pair of eyes. At full time it was Barcelona 3 - Real Madrid 2, with a game that lived up -- until the final few minutes -- to its Super name.
This is farlieonfootie for August 18.