Monthly Archives: April 2011

Wronged Madrid Savaged By Messi

Barcelona goalscorer Lionel MessiIn a game featuring two teams whom we are so used to seeing bring the finest steak to the footballing potluck, the two Spanish giants brought only dirty napkins and cheap cutlery for the first seventy-five minutes of an embarrassingly ill tempered affair.

For every moment of genius, there are always several of mortification, and every follower of football deserves to be as mortified about the behavior of Pedro and Busquets, as they are proud of Messi’s second goal. Pedro’s theatric fall and clutching of his face, a theatric attempt at conning referee Wolfgang Stark into sending off Alvaro Arbeloa, would have been the premier cheat of the game, had Sergio Busquets not eclipsed him moments later with an equally grotesque attempt at reducing Real’s numbers. In the midst of this whirl of Classicos, Jose Mourinho had vented his fury at the refereeing decisions that have gone against his side, and openly expressed his desire to see Barcelona play with only ten men on the field. Well, both Busquet’s and Pedro’s actions fully warrant punishment of the utmost severity, though Fifa rules dictate that they should only receive a booking.

Of course though, the miniature drama directed and performed by the Barcelona midfield was only a subplot to an extremely intense and interesting game of football, going on across the Bernabeau turf. Tactically, not much was different from the first two encounters, Madrid operated with Pepe in midfield and a false nine up top, and were forced to make only one major personnel change, Sergio Ramos deputizing at center back for the unavailable Ricardo Carvahlo. For Barcelona, all was the same as usual formation wise, but crucially, Seydou Keita was forced to come in for the injured Andres Iniesta.

In a week that has been marked by the celebration of William Shakespeare’s birthday, I suppose it was fitting that Madrid and Barca players chose to show their appreciation for the field of drama, in such an exciting and passionate way. Starting in the first seconds, every challenge was milked, every decision questioned, and every blowing of the whistle sparked a major flare up. Disgusting and embarrassing to watch, two of the greatest teams on the planet ruined what should have been a magical occasion with their antics, further fueled by the constant spats between Mourinho and Guardiola, ones which originated in the press room earlier this week.

Jose Pinto (purple) tries to pick a fight with the Real Madrid team at half-time, leading to his dismissal from the bench.

The first half ended, uneventful, no chances, but plenty of complaining. The first part of the second period was, if possible, even worse, the tension added to by Sergio Pinto’s sending off during the half time interval. We had to wait, fifteen minutes into the second half, for the games defining moment to arrive, as Pepe, lunging fairly for the ball, shaved Alves with his studs, a slight bit of contact, which caused Alves to call for a stretcher. There really should be no place in football for the likes of Alves, a man who should live in shame for the rest of the season after his own contribution to the memory the Bard of Avon.

Unsurprisingly, Pepe’s dismissal sparked an uncouth reaction from Mr. Mourinho who was sent to the stands after a wink filled tirade towards the fourth official. Up a man and in control, it quickly became clear that Barca were ready to press forward for a winner, and one arrived with just nine minutes to go.

On as a second half substitute for the ineffective Pedro, Ibrahim Affelay burst past Marcelo before whipping in a near post cross that was jabbed home by the onrushing Messi. That goal was the Argentine’s fifty-first of what has been yet another remarkable season for him.

1-0 down, and still with several minutes left to play, it quickly became clear that the remainder of the game would be an exercise in damage limitation for the hosts. Instead of pressing forward for a leveler, the Merengues continued to sit deep, inviting pressure, a strategy eventually resulted in Barca’s second goal.

Messi proved with his first strike of the match that he is more than capable of scoring goals on the scrappy side, but his second was much more like what we have been accustomed to seeing from the World’s greatest footballer. Bursting past three players with consummate ease, Messi found himself one on one with Casillas, a situation he adjusted to with aplomb, clipping a lovely right footed finish into the net for two-nil.

A hush fell around the Bernabeau, as Messi wheeled away in celebration, mobbed by teammates, who must surely now believe that they are heading for Wembley. Mourinho sat passively, in his positon in the stands, observing his side’s collapse, but all the while still jotting notes on his ever present pad.

The story of this match, will undoubtedly be of an Argentine’s brilliance, but that moment of sheer genius masked what had been a negative, unsportsmanlike encounter. Year’s before the development of football as a professional sport, Shakespeare referred to the World as a stage, if only Spain’s elite hadn’t taken him quite so literally.


Tottenham vs Arsenal Is Game’s Greatest Derby

Chim chiminy chim chiminy, chim chim cheroo, Bentley from fifty and Lennon from two!

Van der Vaart find the net for SpursIn the wake of a Wednesday occupied by two of Europe’s most exciting derby matches, it seems appropriate to reopen the discussion about the World’s greatest rivalry.

Many will argue that passion fueled matches like Olympiakos vs Panathanaikos, Fenerbache vs Gaalataasaray and Boca vs River deserve mention in this discussion but I disagree. How many of you even know the scores of the last two fixtures involving one or both of those teams? Exactly, outside of the countries that house them, the participants in the above matches are not followed with any great detail, the reason being that the quality of football in Greece, Turkey and Argentina pales in comparison with that in places like Spain, Germany, England and Italy.

Last night, Premier League fans had the pleasure of witnessing one of the finest derby matches in the history of English football, a sumptuous 3-3 draw between North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal. The match had everything, great saves, penalties, goals and even a come back. Both teams approached the fixture with attacking intentions, reflective of the ideals of their respective managers, and after fifteen minutes the score was already 2-1.

Perhaps even more remarkable than the game itself is that a match of the quality witnessed on Wednesday night is no rarity when it come to North London derbies. Earlier this season, Tottenham won a thrilling match 3-2 at the Emirates, coming from 2-0 down to snatch a precious win. Last year, Spurs all but ended Arsenal’s title hopes with a fantastic 2-1 win at the Lane, marked by a screamer from Danny Rose. However, the best derby in recent memory was played out in the Fall of 2008, when a David Bentley stunner and an Aaron Lennon tap in helped Tottenham and new boss Harry Redknapp to a 4-4 draw at the Emirates Stadium.

So, is the rivalry between Tottenham and Arsenal the greatest in World football? There is no doubt that the fixture which routinely shows off the World’s greatest personnel is the Madrid-Barcelona match, but as proved on Saturday, that match can often disappoint. It has been more than 20 years since a stoppage time goal settled a Madrid-Barca game, whereas Tottenham-Arsenal clashes seem to produce late drama on each and every occasion.

In Italy there are also a series of quite competitive derby matches, most notably the Milan derby, but Sampdoria and Genoa matches are often fiery. In Rome, the Roma-Lazio match has been one tarnished with violence over the years, but it still remains one of the finest occasions in Italian football.

Within England itself there are a host of other derby fixtures that challenge North London’s claim to the title, the passion of Liverpool-Everton, and the now more crucial than ever battles between City and United help to provide story lines in the English Premier League season. Some of the smaller teams in England also boast incredible derbies, Newcastle-Sunderland is always nasty and there is certainly no love lost between either Birmingham and Aston Villa or Millwall and West Ham.

Across the border, Scotland sports one of the game’s oldest and most famous matches, the Old Firm Derby, contested several times a year between Celtic and Rangers. Unlike the North London derby, that match contains a host of social and religious connotations, ones that only serve to make the rivalry more fierce.

However, in one way or another Spurs-Arsenal trumps the lot. While lacking the high profile names of Madrid-Barca, Spurs-Arsenal remains a much more local affair, a true derby, not just a rivalry between cities. While the occasional classic is produced in Italian derbies, the lack of high attendances and bubbling atmosphere takes away from the edge produced on derby day, and fan violence unfortunately continues to mar such occasions as well.

In the past, Liverpool-Everton was always an important match, but nowadays it remains crucial merely in the context of Europa League qualification. While goals are always promised when Tottenham and Arsenal kick off, the same cannot be said for United and City. Especially since the arrival of Roberto Mancini, the goals have really dried up, seriously inhibiting the quality of the spectacle.

Ask any Scot, and they’d think you were barmy to claim that Spurs-Arsenal trumped the Old Firm, but in all honesty the quality of play in Scotland is at the level of the English Championship, so it’s difficult to get too excited about the Tartans’ figure head match.

Spurs vs Arsenal is the only match in European and World football which has consistently produced exciting games, made all the more intriguing by the presence of high quality footballers. It pits together two local teams that absolutely loath each other, in a fixture that boasts a rich past, and an even greater present.