By Pat Johnston
The hype and build up for the Barca- Real encounter was immense. The match surpassed the expectations and delivered a spectacle that very few teams could muster.
On display were arguably the world’s two best teams and both with star-studded rosters that any club would envy.
And what made this match so enjoyable was the fact that both teams played to win. In the cauldron of the Nou Camp with an atmosphere felt half way around the world, the two heavyweights of Spanish football stood toe to toe and gave each other their best shot. Real Madrid came into the match with a five-point lead and just needing a draw to establish a stranglehold on the La Liga title. Only a win would do for Barcelona.
Fresh off one-goal defeats in midweek Champion’s League clashes, neither team could be faulted if they approached this match with one eye on the return leg of the world’s greatest club competition. But the allure of el clasico and the genuine dislike each team has for the other transcended any future matches much to this viewer’s delight.
Match commentator Ray Hudson said it best when he described the Madrid tactics- “Mourinho has unleashed the hounds.” There was nothing cagey or calculated about the Merengues opening stanza. In full song and attacking with vigor, Real Madrid surged to a deserved lead and continued to put the Catalonian giants under pressure. What a delight for both coaches to release the reins and allow the players to go out and win the game. With names like Messi, Ronaldo, etc., how could they not?
Madrid was to win the contest on a Ronaldo goal in the 73rd minute. They were able to protect the fragile lead until the final whistle. Barcelona had just equalized three minutes earlier on a goal from freshly entered substitution Alexis Sanchez. The only blemish for this writer on the match was the fact that Sami Khedira’s first half goal should not have counted. Kehdira was offside by a slim margin but Madrid did deserve the first half lead nonetheless.
Madrid awaits Bayern Munich for Wednesday’s second leg down 2-1. But I fear for the Germans. They are about to go to the Bernabeau and face a side that has finally been able to beat the world’s best team while playing football. Mourinho’s past Madrid sides were constantly trying to bully the Barcelona players and create a disruptive pattern to their matches, but mostly fell short. Their one win in last year’s Copa del Rey was a 1-0 score line that many felt was not deserved. There was no arguing this most recent result. Real Madrid will be the Champions of Spain and will have earned it. Their confidence is at an all time high right now and the Bayern side will be fortunate to stay within a goal in the aggregate score line come Wednesday.
Barcelona, on the other hand is reeling. Two successive defeats in their two biggest matches in this campaign has them realizing they are human. And even more revealing was the fact that they were actually beaten legitimately for the first time in a very long time, and at home to boot!
But this team has been the world’s best for quite some time now and there is still plenty of hunger and ability in their ranks. I also fear for Chelsea because they are now facing a wounded animal with it’s back to the wall. Barcelona will need to score and attack from the opening whistle and will do so impunitively when the craven Chelsea side comes into the Nou Camp naively thinking they will protect their one goal lead. And if Di Matteo were to release the hounds: he would be sending Retrievers against Mastiffs, not a fair fight.
A dream final, Real Madrid- Barcelona: Please, can we have some more? And if Madrid were to win again, then we will have witnessed a changing of the guard.
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