UEFA: Thank God that’s the end of that one!
Finally we can say good riddance to the soap opera that has been FC Barcelona versus Real Madrid CF. That’s until it comes back about three months from now for the 2011 Spanish Super Cup match which should feature Spain’s La Liga champions (surely FC Barcelona) and Copa del Rey winners (definitely Real Madrid). But, by that time, let’s hope all of the tedious nonsense that has marred this fixture over the last fortnight can, finally, be put to bed.
The only highlight of the five-part epic that has been Real v Barça this season was the first game which took place in late November, an unforgettable league game in which FC Barcelona gave their rivals from the Spanish capital the ultimate masterclass and disposed of them by five goals to nil. Perhaps, then, it was a little unfortunate that the return league fixture took place around the same time as both clubs were due to meet in the Copa del Rey final and UEFA Champions League semi-finals. This had the effect of making the occasion more tense than usual especially as neither of these great rivals can tolerate losing to the other at the best of times. Nonetheless the fact that these games were to take place should’ve allowed coaches José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola the opportunity to show the world that their clubs are the most exciting in world football.
Alas the occasion proved only to frighten both teams into a tactical battle of wills although it has to be said that Mourinho was far more guilty than Guardiola of cynical play. The league game in Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu stadium, played on April 16th, was pretty tame by the standards of El Clásico but this was perhaps bore out by the suspicion that Mourinho had privately conceded the league title to the Catalans and decided to place his priorities towards to the two knockout tournaments. The Copa del Rey final on April 20th did see los Blancos win Spain’s premier domestic knock-out competition for the first time since 1992-93 thanks to a glorious Cristiano Ronaldo header in the midst of extra-time in a game which either team could’ve won in regular time. But even that occasion proved to be overshadowed by the fact that Sergio Ramos dropped the trophy from the top of the team bus which was subsequently run over upon its landing to terra firma (see video below):
But the real sideshow happened in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League which was played in Madrid. Every refereeing decision was hotly contested by both clubs which was a throwback to the Copa del Rey final in which Madrid were the main perpetrators of a tactic in which the end result was to bully the referee into giving a decision their way. FC Barcelona had undoubtedly decided to use the same tactic in Madrid’s backyard and the temperature had already reached boiling point at half-time when the Catalans’ reserve goalkeeper José Pinto was sent off for his part in a touchline mêlée. Pepe was the next player to see red in the second half as the Madrid defender was sent off for a late challenge on Dani Alves who, it must be said, made a bit of a meal of it. This red card, the fourth in four games that Real had ‘earned’ against Barcelona, provoked Mourinho into getting himself sent into the stand following his protestations which, in turn, would lead to his post-match press conference. Following Madrid’s 2-0 defeat the self-styled Special One blamed everyone from the referee, European football’s governing body UEFA and even the children’s charity UNICEF (whose name adourns the Barcelona shirt) and claimed that there was a conspiracy in which FC Barcelona had all the power. The fact that the better team won clearly didn’t cross his mind.
And so we finally had the fifth and final instalment last night and even before a ball was kicked both teams were throwing insults and accusations towards each other. Madrid claimed that Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets had made racist remarks to Marcelo in the first leg whilst FC Barcelona hit back saying that they were true professionals. The fact that last night’s game didn’t generate much ill-temper on the pitch proved to be a surprise and the only highlight of the game was Eric Abidal’s return following his successful surgery to remove a liver tumour. Almost inevitably, however, the controversy still continued following the game which ended in a 1-1 draw following goals from Pedro (Barcelona) and Marcelo (Madrid). No doubt that Mourinho will believe the fact that Gonzalo Higuain’s goal was disallowed due to an innocuous off the ball incident proves his point regarding Barcelona’s power. Also Cristiano Ronaldo has accused Javier Mascherano of cheating saying he “….wasn’t like this when he played for Liverpool. He must’ve learned all these cheating tricks at Barcelona” which is quite comical given the Portuguese superstar’s apparently fondness for falling on the floor. To be fair to Ronaldo, Barcelona may have lost some friends for their histrionics over the last few weeks as more fans would’ve expected them to concentrate on playing the free-flowing football with which they have been synonymous in recent seasons. Nonetheless Barcelona are now in line to become European champions for the fourth time unless Manchester United or Schalke 04 have anything to do with it.
Let’s just hope that “Hell Clásico”, as some writers have dubbed it, reverts back to classic status next season but I, for one, am not holding my breath……