Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

UEFA: Thank God that’s the end of that one!

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 4, 2011
Eric Abidal

Eric Abidal is thrown by jubilant Barcelona team mates into the air

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……

Spain: Madrid and Barcelona cement places as top two

Posted in European Football by peterbein on November 21, 2010
Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick in Barcelona's 8-0 win over Almeria

Both of Spain’s dominant footballing powers continue to edge their way further ahead in the race for the 2010-11 La Liga championship as Real Madrid and FC Barcelona recorded massive wins over Athletic Bilbao and UD Almeria respectively.

In a league which is becoming something of a more powerful version of the Scottish Premier League, there seems to be a massive gulf between the traditional big two of Spanish football and the rest of the league. With El Clásico on the horizon it was important for both teams to make a statement of intent going into next Monday’s crucial encounter and neither team disappointed.

First up were FC Barcelona and once Lionel Messi opened the scoring for the defending La Liga champions on 17 minutes there was no looking back as the Blaugrana had wave after wave of attack which left their opponents completely overwhelmed. Before they knew it Almeria were five goals down at half-time following strikes from Iniesta (penalty), Pedro, Messi again and an own goal from Santi Acasiente. Barça were in no mood to take their foot off the gas as they hit the back of the net a further three times in the second half. Bojan Krkić’s second half brace sandwiched Lionel Messi’s hat-trick goal and the 8-0 win was the biggest of the season for Pep Guardiola’s team who can now go into their home match against Real Madrid with confidence.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo also scored a hat-trick in Real Madrid's 5-1 win over Bilbao

Things are equally as good at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu where league leaders Real Madrid also hit a multitude of goals in a 5-1 rout over Athletic Bilbao. José Mourinho’s team got the ball rolling when Gonzalo Higuaín opened the scoring after 19 minutes. After that the game turned into the Cristiano Ronaldo show as the Portuguese superstar equalled Messi’s efforts by scoring a hat-trick of his own. A penalty from Sergio Ramos was Madrid’s other effort of the game whilst the hapless Basques at least mustered a consolation strike when Fernando Llorente’s 40th minute strike at least had fans thinking there would be a contest with the game ending 2-1 at the break. However the attacking nature of Madrid under Mourinho is, after a slow(ish) start, beginning to find a more fluent rhythm with Los Blancos scoring seventeen goals in their last five league games.

Villarreal and Valencia CF, the two teams directly behind the top two before this weekend’s games, played out a 1-1 draw at the former’s El Madrigal stadium which further encapsulates the view that La Liga is going to be dominated by Madrid and Barcelona once again. League leaders Real Madrid are still unbeaten with 32 points from 12 games, just one ahead of Barcelona whilst third place Villarreal are already a further seven points back. Considering that the gap between the top two and third place in last season’s championship was a distant 25 points there are already fears that the Spanish League is turning into a glorified Scottish League. Despite this there is a match-up betwen Spain’s version of the Old Firm coming up next Monday night and it looks like being one of the most interesting Clásico games in modern times.