Monday, November 8, 2010

Bloodied but Unbowed

photo by ajensen05via PhotoRee

November 7 / Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain

They eyes of the soccer world turn to central Spain today for what should be an especially lively Madrid derby. Although it's been a one-sided affair lately -- Atletico have not beaten Real since 1999 -- Coach Quique Sanchez Flores is convinced he finally has the squad this year to make a difference.  

Atleti opt for Diego Forlan and Kun Aguero on the attack today, and Los Rojiblanco's fans can only hope this is the day when the vaunted offense finally clicks in a way it has yet to so far this season. Real counter with a heavyweight lineup that includes Higuain, Ronaldo, Di Maria and Ozil, among others, a lineup that has scored 16 goals at home this season while conceding only two.

Early on and it's Pepe with a bullet of a header directly at David De Gea, Atleti's 19 year-old goalkeeper, who swallows it whole. Atleti showcase some offensive prowlings of their own, and create an excellent opportunity early on with Simao skimming by Sergio Ramos down the flank. It's lively stuff here at the get go, and if the action continues at this pace we'll be in for a treat today.

Sami Khadira is the first to net the ball, putting it in off a De Gea spill in the game's 9th minute, but the linesman's flag is raised as the German is caught out by the offside trap. Five minutes later, though, it's Ricardo Carvalho scoring for the home side and this time it counts, as the portuguese defender is played through off a defletcted pass from teammate Angel DiMaria. It's Real 1 - Atleti nil, and such an early goal can't be a good thing for the visitors' confidence. 

It's not.  Less than five minutes later and Mesut Ozil doubles the Royals' lead, as De Gea stands statue-like, glued to the spot and watching the German's free kick land firmly in the side of the net. Real lead by two and it now looks as if the total could be a lot more than that by the end of the day. Los Blancos appear to be in fine form today, perhaps looking to make up for their poor showing mid-week in the Champions League, and Atleti look stunned by both the action and the scoreline.  

The visitors narrowly miss playing their way back into the game at the half hour mark, as first Marcelo and then Casillas deny Forlan and Aguero from close range within a minute of each other. It's been that kind of day for Atleti, who remain potent on offense even if leaky as a sieve on their patchwork defense. We head to the break at 2-nil, with the game teetering between blowout and first-rate competitive match. Atleti need the next goal to ensure it's the latter rather than the former that describes the action to come.

The second half simmers along with neither side creating much in the way of chances before the hour mark. Atleti seem more composed this half, as if the game had begun an hour earlier than they'd been led to believe by their hosts, and they've just now begun to show up for the party.

At the hour mark, two pieces of magic: a Diego Forlan rocket rebounds off the Real goal post, and the Uruguayan is desperately unlucky not to enter the scorer's book with his effort; at the other end of the pitch, Ozil receives a get out of jail free card as he's sprung by a visionary Marcelo pass, but this time the German's radar is out of alignment and his shot is wide of the mark. In the 73rd minute, Reyes hit an absolute missile that narrowly avoids the upper corner of the Real goal --  breathless stuff this, but still the scorline remains stuck at 2-nil.

With 10 minutes to go, Sanchez Flores pulls his captain Simao, and introduces a third striker, as the Brazilan Diego Costa enters the fray. It's moves like this that have endeared the coach to the Atleti faithful, and it's all hands in on the attack in a desperate bid to alter the final scoreline. Unfortunately, Costa's first contribution is an ugly foul that leaves Ricardo Carvalho dazed and confused, as well as bleeding from the eye socket. If Spanish football is supposed to be less physical than the game played in England, someone forgot to send the memo to Costa.

The final ticks of the clock are notable for one of the best back passes ever, as Cristiano Ronaldo literally passes the ball off his back to Xabi Alonso, who whistles in a cross to Sergio Ramos.  Unfortunately, Ramos finishes like the defender he is, and misses the final product in what would have been a strong candidate for goal of the year. 

At the final whistle, though, it's Los Blancos who have been too much for the upstarts from across town: Real 2- nil on the day, and back into the La Liga lead. Atleti are bloody but unbowed, and can take some cold comfort in their second half performance.  They may not have closed the gap, but they've narrowed it considerably.  This is farlieonfootie for November 9th.

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