Sunday, May 15, 2011

El Classicos galore

I’ve always been a late bloomer. Heard Beatles at an age when people usually graduate to jazz, started watching French cinema even after those living under the rock and read ‘Corrections’ at least four years late. While I’ve taken these things in my stride, I couldn’t reconcile with the fact that I came to know about El Classico this late in my life.

From April 17-May 3, four Real Madrid-Barcelona games were to be watched. Comparing it to India-Pakistan cricket matches will be a huge disservice and facetious to the Spanish teams.
The history attached to these teams is way too much and intricate to encapsulate into a blog post. It would be suffice to say that barring El Salvador-Honduras football game (Ryszard Kapuscinski’s ‘Soccer War’ is a brilliant piece of reportage on this), El Classico is the greatest sporting tie, ever. With Jose Mourinho at the helm of Madrid affairs, I knew that these four games will be high on testosterone. The way things panned out, they exceeded my wildest expectations.

Last November, Madrid received a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Barcelona and a fusillade of, rather premature, obituaries were written out how a team full of superstars (Ronaldo, Kaka for the starters) is not a patch on the proponents of ‘beautiful game’. April 17 was the second leg of La Liga and the game sailed by to a satisfactory 1-1 draw. Next game was the Copa Del Rey final and a beautiful Cristiano Ronaldo brace in the extra-time ended Barca’s chances of a treble this season. These two games were just a prelude to the opera called UEFA Champions League semi-final.

A barrage of soccer invectives were exchanged between Mourinho and Pep Guardiola (Barcelona’s manager) prior to the game and they only intensified after the game. Barcelona have been accused of playacting, a neologism for the way Barcelona’s players feigned fouls and fell to the ground. The game touched its nadir when Pepe was sent off for what looked like a typical football tackle on Dani Alves. Reduced to ten men and that too without Pepe, who was pretty successful in marking Lionel Messi, Madrid were barely hanging to the game when the final straw came in the form of two successive goals. If that wasn’t enough, further salt was sprinkled onto Madrid’s wounds by UEFA for banning Mourinho from the stadium for the second leg for his comments on Barcelona’s style of playing.

With an insane advantage of two away goals, Barcelona had to just defend itself during the second leg of the semi-final. Defend they did but if not for a disallowed goal at the 47th minute, Barcelona would still be smarting from a bitter defeat. While Gonzalez Higauin was at the cusp of converting a Ronaldo pass, Javier Mascherano fell to the ground in controversial circumstances (he allegedly faked an injury) and from there on the game ended in a tame 1-1 draw.

At the end of four El Classicos, I was reminded of what Kingsley Amis thought of someone who just got initiated into P G Wodehouse: “What a lucky beggar! Just think of the fun he’s going to have reading all those other books for the first time.” This late-bloomer thing really tastes bittersweet.


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