|photo by Kid's Birthday Parties||via PhotoRee|
Barcelona. Real Madrid. Camp Nou. Need we say more?
Of course we do.
Needing a victory, Real visited the hallowed Catalan grounds that have rarely brought them good tidings this past Sunday evening. Due to fitness issues affecting the home side, however -- lacking both starting center halves for this latest version of El Clasico -- Los Blancos must have entered Sunday's contest with significant hope for the first time in ages.
The game started out as if both teams were late to a party -- which in Spain would mean arriving quite tardily, indeed. Bodies rushed back and forth, up and down the pitch, as each team sought the early advantage, but neither side had a true shot on goal until the newly shorn Sergio Ramos missed an uncontested header from right in front of Victor Valdes' goal: the exact same spot typically so well protected by the aforementioned and absent Carles Puyol and Gerard Piqué.
Cristiano Ronaldo -- he of the sad affect of late -- made no such mistake near the 20 minute mark, though, burying his first shot on goal and beating Valdes on the near post for a deserved 1-nil lead for the men in white. Less than two minutes later the lead should have doubled, with the posts serving as the Catalans' most effective defender, denying a wide open Karim Benzema from point blank range.
Not to be left out, Lionel Messi soon pulled out his party invitation and drew his team level -- a rather surprise development, if any goal by the Argentine wunderkind can be described as such. In contrast to the typical artful Messi scoring play, this was more of a like Real Madrid "Tilt-ing" on the pinball that was bouncing around in the box, self destructing through unintentional rebounds and caught standing still at the one moment that truly mattered.
It wouldn't be a Clasico if the handbags hadn't come out, so it was no surprise when tempers flared just before the half as ticky-tacky fouls were greeted with moaning and writhing about on the pitch. But if the first half served up some wicked action, it was solely to prepare the fans for the second 45 minutes, which opened at one end with a disputed non-call on a penalty for Real Madrid and continued at the other with a disputed non-call on a penalty for Barcelona. The teams then traded free kicks from dangerous spots, although the home side's effort was considerably more celebrated.
As the clock hit the hour mark with the game delicately poised, Lionel Messi separated the sides he had previously drawn equal, his left foot caressing a free kick from 25 yards past the diving Iker Casillas. As if to more sharply draw the contrast with the preening Ronaldo, the diminutive Argentine offered up a kick that somehow had eyes -- allowing it to somehow slip through the same type of wall that had managed to frustrate his opposite number only a couple of minutes earlier.
If Ronaldo was frustrated by the change of plans, he didn't wait long to exact his revenge, turning the tables on Barca and Messi and drawing the two sides equal yet again. Slipped through the very center of the Blaugrana defense by Mesut Ozil, the Portuguese striker made no mistake with his latest opportunity -- although coming shortly after a hard landing on his left shoulder, the goal was greeted by as much wince as smile.
Once again the two sides raced up and down the pitch -- still late for the party after 80 minutes of action -- in search of the winning goal. While both Higuain and Montoya fluffed their lines with the three points available, the resulting 2-2 draw was more than appropriate given the quality of the two teams' performances. While the shared points were probably more warmly greeted by the home side, Jose Mourinho and his troops can hang their hat on the reminiscence that hey were every bit their opposites' equal on enemy turf.
This is farlieonfootie for October 9.