Barcelona 2-0 Real Madrid
- 1-0 Eto’o, 83′
- 2-0 Messi, 90′
After watching this game, I have decided to never again give any grief to Yankees fans. Sports are not nearly as politicized in the U.S. as they are in Europe – I can’t imagine ANY game in the States having the same tension or potential meaning as this one did – but people often like or dislike teams for reasons other than anything having to do with their geography or personnel. I root against most teams from Texas because I believe the state should, indeed, be messed with, while my dad hates all things Boston because of the city’s history of racist treatment of its players (and, I suspect, because he’s a Lakers fan with a natural beef with the Celtics). The Yankees are the easiest to hate because of how incredibly high their payroll is, especially compared to smaller market teams, and it seems vastly unfair.
European football has a similar wealth disparity between teams, but the leagues don’t even pretend to regulate it so it’s less of an issue. What often matters more is what the teams stand for socially, politically, economically, perhaps none more so than in the match-up between Barça and Real Madrid. And while every bit of my conscience and political judgment compels me to root for Barcelona – or anyone besides Real Madrid, really – I still end up rooting for Los Blancos. I’ve given up trying to explain it. After watching the organization eat itself from the inside out, I’ve been somewhat turned off and have started to shift allegiances, willing myself to convert to the Blaugrana. But after this game, I realized I just can’t do it. I am stuck liking this team and will try to quit beating myself up about it. Because sometimes you just like a team with no good explanation, and that’s all there is to it. Yankees fans are no better or worse than me for rooting for an obnoxiously stacked roster and royally cocky management. Those things are just accidents and not the basis for moral judgment. I still choose to hate the team, but I will refrain from dissing its fans. And here ends my mea culpa.
The game itself was an embattled one rife with intensity from beginning to end. From the opening touch to Canna’s last-ditch attempt to prevent the second goal, both teams gave everything they had and it was refreshing to see. In an age of jaded, overpaid players, here was a contest that really mattered to all involved, and it showed in their committed play.
Real Madrid played their hearts out, as was evident in their mud-caked uniforms, and they came painfully close to a 0-0 draw, which would have been as good as a win for a struggling Madrid team. Instead, it was a case of too much water eventually breaking through the dam. Real played better defense than I have seen them play all season long, holding a surging Barça side scoreless for upwards of 80 minutes, a moral victory in and of itself. Casillas saved their butts on numerous occasions, none bigger than the save on Eto’o’s penalty, and Madrid went into the locker room knowing they had had the best chance of the first half on a brilliant volley by Sneijder. Drenthe should have scored in a one-on-one encounter with Valdes, and there were a couple other chances left hanging. Barcelona utterly dominated possession in both halves, but Madrid defended with a fury, attempting to kick Messi into submission and playing wonderfully as a team. Sergio Ramos was started at left back in what turned out to be a great tactical move. He did his best, with lots of help, to keep track of Messi, and the team took turns chopping him down. The ref eventually started pulling the yellow card on it and it slowed down, but it had the desired effect early on. Yaya stormed forward a few times in the first half, as did Abidal, with Alves, surprisingly enough, being quite defensive-minded and making a number of key tackles. While it was a good half for Real, holding Barça scoreless, it felt more like they had survived than anything else.
Like the well-coached team they are, Barcelona remained patient and effective all game long, knowing it would pay off in the end. Real continued the good defensive effort, but it just wasn’t enough. When Busquets was brought on for Gudjohnsen, Barça immediately increased their upper hand as the sub was awarded a penalty after being brought down by Salgado in the box. When Eto’o stepped up to take it, you could feel hearts sink across the capital. And then the amazing happened. Iker saved it. Not just saved it – he blocked it out of bounds so there was no chance for a put-back. It was in-fucking-credible, and it was then that I knew I could not convert my allegiances so easily. I raised my hands in triumph and got set for what was sure to be a slog the rest of the way. From there it only got better as Iker made an insane double save against Eto’o and then Messi to keep the clean sheet. And for a while it seemed like we might have a chance at getting something from this game.
It was not to be, though, as shortly thereafter Barça broke the deadlock on a corner that Puyol won in the air and headed to Eto’o, who calmly slotted it home. It was pandemonium in the Camp Nou. I was 100% in Real’s corner by this point, but I couldn’t help feeling good for all of Barça’s players, for whom it was clearly the most important goal of the season. After that, the resistance was broken and Barça got their second a few minutes later on a lightning quick counterattack that saw Henry set up Messi for the chip over Casillas. Iker could not have prevented either goal and was visibly devastated in the aftermath.
Despite the result, the Real players should be proud of their effort. They played possibly their best game as a TEAM this year, something that speaks highly of Juande Ramos in his early days with the club. I can’t imagine Schuster eliciting this kind of performance from the team, so Ramos should be applauded for his team’s preparation. Literally everyone gave all they had in the defensive stand: Ramos played valiantly against Messi; Salgado did his utmost tactically to stay with Henry and protect the box; the midfield and forwards tracked back with abandon to help out; Cannavaro stuck his nose out there every time, sustaining a knock against the goalpost trying to prevent the final goal; and Metzelder had his most impressive game since joining the side. It was a well orchestrated effort that showed what they were made of, which was much more than I previously suspected. Even with all the injuries, they gritted their teeth and made a game of it till the final whistle. As a newly minted bandwagoner, I couldn’t ask for more.