Wednesday, 27 April 2011

An El Classico Lacking In The "Classic"

3 down, 1 to go.

Most football fans will have guessed that i am talking about the El Classicos; the games between Barcelona and Real Madrid. It's one of the fiercest rivalries around and one look at the combined team sheet of the sides instantly explains why pretty much the entire football world gets VERY excited whenever they meet.

The collective excitement went up a notch after Real Madrid disposed of Tottenham in the Quarter Finals of the Champions League and confirmed that there would be 4 El Classicos in the space of 18 days.

Sadly the anticipation hasn't been matched by the games so far. All three have descended into scrappy affairs where diving, petty fouls and intimidation of referees has dominated and high quality football has been frustratingly sparse.

Tonight's semi-final first leg has almost certainly been the worst of the bunch with all those negative elements taken to extremes. For 70 or so minutes there was very little to commend this game and i was so disappointed that a game which could have been a footballing masterpiece instead was a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

The first half was low on chances and incredibly broken up as both teams seemed to forget the level of football they're capable of and focus instead on kicking each other, falling over and making referee Wolfgang Stark's job even harder than it inevitably was going to be. The worst offenders in that period were Barca players with Pedro and Busquets both causing flash points by over reacting to innocuous looking collisions.

Even just going down the tunnel at half time proved too difficult for several of the players with yet another outbreak of squabbling and posturing leading to Barca's substitute goalkeeper Pinto being sent off.

The second red card of the game was pretty much inevitable considering what had gone on up to that point. When Pepe went in on Dani Alves with a feisty challenge it was as much Alves theatrical rolling around and the manner in which the Barcelona players swarmed around Stark that led to the red card as anything to do with Pepe's tackle;which was ill-judged but really not deserving of a straight dismissal. Mourinho was sent off for how he reacted to the decision and though i'm far from his biggest fan his frustration was perfectly understandable.

From then on it was almost all Barcelona as you would expect and the breakthrough eventually came on 76 minutes and it was from a man who stood out as a great player even amongst the illustrious company he had on that field, Lionel Messi. He flicked in a cross from the substitute Affelay for his 51st goal of the season in all competitions. 51 goals; it's an incredible return and the Argentinean maestro was only just getting into his stride so far as this game was concerned.

His second, a goal which will make it almost impossible for anyone to look past Barcelona getting to the final, was something special; it was a moment of pure skill and elegance so out of character with the rest of the match that it made the other 89 minutes all the more frustrating. He picked up the ball 30 yards out and ran at the defence, taking on 3 world class defenders with an ease that almost seemed to mock them, then flicked it past Casillas as he charged out of his goal.

It was the sort of moment that you hope to see in a game like this, where one of the many brilliant players on display manages to produce something extra special to help their team; it's just a damn shame that even a goal of that quality was tarnished by the match it was scored in.

For fleeting moments throughout the game one or more of the players seemed to remember the kind of football they are capable of, but too much of the time they seemed more interested in kicking each other and whinging.

As i'm a glass half full kind of guy when it comes to football i still harbour a little bit of hope that the 4th match might actually live up to some of the hype the fixture always earns; Real Madrid will have to try and score while staying strong at the back, not something easily achieved at the Nou Camp. My heart says it will be an open, high scoring game but my head tells me it'll be a scrappy, bad tempered game, just like the other 3.

Today's song is an audience recording of Dallas Green, otherwise known as City and Colour, covering Adele's 'Hometown Glory'. I'm very jealous of the person whose video this is as i wish i could have been at the gig, but thanks to Youtube i get the next best thing.

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