Monday, April 18, 2011

A Mexican Stand Off

photo by Mild Mannered Photographervia PhotoRee

April 16 / Estadio Santiago Bernabeu / Madrid, Spain

Real Madrid met Barcelona on Saturday for the 162nd time in time in La Liga, and for the first of four meetings in 18 days' time. Four Classico's in two and a half weeks: better get yor hair gel out.

I'm not sure you would have realzied this when La Liga's schedule was first released, but Saturday's match was actually the least important of the matches coming up, if they can be ranked that way. Barcelona entered the game with a fairly insurmountable lead in La Liga, while the next three matches between the two sides include the final of the King's Cup and the two-legs of the Champions League Semi-finals.

Commentator Ray Hudson was in all-star form for the game, waxing lyrically, melodramatically and majestically about the end-to-end action on the pitch. When he's on, Hudson can make watching grass grow sound exciting.  Phil Schoen also did a great job bringing Ray back down to earth, providing context and play-by-play in-between Ray's rhapsodic utterances.

I didn't agree with everything Ray said, though. I think he actually called Spurs a bunch of "donkeys" at some point during the match. Although it helped him to make his point about Real being race horses, he neglected to mention that Real scored all their goals in the home leg versus a 10 man Spurs team that was running on fumes. If that's a race horse, then it's one that was running against a three-legged opponent.

It says something about the star power on the pitch Saturday that David Villa was virtually invisible for the first 25 minutes. I was actually shocked when I saw him on the pitch -- I hadn't heard his name called yet, or even glimpsed him on the television. A minute later, though, and Villa was at the center of the action, wrongly accused of diving by a referee who needed to have his vision checked.

Real gave as good as they got through the match's first half. Maybe this is sacrilege in the world of football, but even after 40 straight games without defeat, I'm not 100% convinced that Barca is the greatest thing to world football since sliced bread (this didn't sound so crazy to me when I thought it as it looks when I write it). Don't get me wrong -- Barca is clearly one of the top sides in the world. I just haven't figured out whether they're number one, two, or three....

It was fitting, though, that two penalties decided the day's result, which ended in a Mexican stand off. Fitting in that it took a couple of out-of-the-ordinary events to create goals, as well as that the first penalty meant the game didn't serve as a true test for the next three matches, with the two sides spending the final 35 minutes with an uneven amount of men on the pitch.

And while Messi's penalty was struck clinically, it was Ronaldo's penalty that should serve as a lesson in how to take them.  Hit by a man who's been famously stopped at the line (think European final versus Chelsea in 2008), Ronaldo's kick from the spot should be text book illustration A on how to hit a penalty.  Struck with complete confidence, Valdes had absolutely no chance of stopping the equalizer.

In the end, the game settled little in the long-running rivalrybetween the sides.  Think of it instead as just an appetizer before the main course.

This is farlieonfootie for April 18.

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