February 25 is Columnist Scott day at farlieonfootie. Herewith, the second of two columns from our footballing idiot savant:
Convalescing from my latest attempt to relive my footballing glory years, I had the time and opportunity to catch Real Madrid's meeting with CSKA Moscow in the first leg of a Round of 16 Champions League tie. While it was clearly winter, it was no wonderland at Luzhniki Stadium, with sub-freezing temperatures and frozen artificial turf making Cristiano Ronaldo & Co. long for the more temperate clime of the Santiago Bernabeu. Perhaps even more chilling than the weather was how disturbingly similar the Muscovites’ uniforms were to those of a certain team from Catalunya.
But any sartorial stress Real may have felt melted off after a less-than-noteworthy first quarter hour. With only one CSKA chance put wide in that time, things finally got going after Karim Benzema (groin injury) was replaced by Gonzalo Higuain in the 14th
minute. For it was only two minutes after his introduction that the Argentinean was the beneficiary of some crisp, short passes that led to his first-time shot, blocked as it was by Sergei Chepchugov.
Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall when the quality of Benzema was replaced by the quality of Higuain, the Russians began to muscle their way through the match, knocking down Los Blancos
whenever possible. And the physicality of the home side seemed to be having its desired effect, as Real was not breaking forward as quickly as normal, instead opting for more subtle build up play.
They were rewarded for their patience in the 28th
minute when some poor defending by CSKA surrendered the ball in their own box and, after a poor clearance of the resulting cross, Ronaldo flawlessly drilled home a half volley into the bottom left corner – according to the announcers, his 36th
in 35 games this season, and his 122nd
in 124 games since joining Real -- not too shabby. The balance of the first half saw Real assuming more and more control of the game, despite CSKA’s press in the final minutes.
Despite the 22 degrees Fahrenheit that chilled both players and fans, CSKA came out flaming hot after the interval, but failed to bring enough fire wood as they were reduced to embers after 10 minutes. Ronaldo put Jose Maria Callejon through on the left but the Spaniard failed to convert, just one more example of a disappointing day for him. Fortunately, Los otros Blancos
were playing well and creating chances despite the crowding in the box.
For their part, CSKA was dangerous on the counter with the speedy Africans, Ahmed Musa and Seydou Doumbia, testing Real's defense, notably in the 62nd minute when the former streaked through for a sizzler that brought out the best of Iker Casillas.