Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Clasico, Part III

As we walk in, Victor Valdez is warming up. A few minutes later the Madrid and Barca players come out to warm up. After running some drills and stretching, the players partner up and pass the ball amongst themselves. Dani Alves and Leo Messi are right below us. Right below us. I can't believe it.

There are tremendous whistles and jeers for the Madrid players and coach when they take to the field. Those jeers contain serious venom. The noise is unremittingly loud. Madrid is loathed here, it is obvious. Many of the Madrid players have played Clasicos before, and in general they look unfazed. Still, all of the players seem a bit jumpy. They understand this is a big game.

Back into the tunnel for the line up and march in front of the camera. The Hymno de Barca starts on the PA system played (x2, the first to warm the crowd up apparently). People hold up their piece of the mosaic, which spells out "T'estimo Barca." Incredible. Now to the kickoff...

At first, the game is tense. Players are trying to assert themselves and find some sort of rhythm. Barca creates a chance early, then another from a corner kick. After the ball bounces a around a bit, Puyol nudges it to Messi who lofts a delicate chip over everyone onto the far post, agonizingly close to an opening goal. A few minutes later, Xavi strikes gold. Iniesta makes a run on the left side of the field and spies Xavi in the box, loosely covered by Marcelo. Marcelo goes to make a play on Iniesta's pass but fails to clear, the ball flicks off of Xavi's heel and somehow bounces over his shoulder -- Xavi instinctively volleys the loose ball past Casillas who is clearly at sea as to what to do. 1 - 0 to Barca. Xavi runs to the corner closest to us with arms raised to celebrate. Jubilation in the stands.
Now that the ice has broken, the Catalans can relax and let their skills and training shine. Madrid do get a couple of chances on counters in the first half, but are not creating much. Ronaldo, petulance incarnate, shoves Guardiola when not getting the ball back for a throw in. The crowd reacts with a chant directed at the Portuguese.
The second half is a master class in possession and attacking football. Rather than walk you though the rest of the game, you should have a look while the link is still there. Go to ESPN3 and watch it. Messi's passes to Villa for goals are simply brilliant. the fifth goal is icing on the cake.
On reflection, I think my personal favorite moment is when Marcelo fouls Pedro, mocks him, then turns his back as Pedro sprints in behind him to net the second goal -- sweet retribution! Also, the Ramos red card was particularly indicative of character.

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