In 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.
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.