Posted: Apr 20, 2011
BY THE time Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid complete the final episode of their 5-Series best seller El-Clasico (The Classic) in the on-going football season, both sets of players will probably be extremely tired of seeing each other’s faces.
I can already imagine Barcelona’s Lionel Messi telling Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo during the traditional shaking of hands that will precede El-Clasico Series 4 and 5 for a place in the 2011 European Champions League final: “You again???!!!”
I am writing this on the eve of El-Clasico Series 3, the final of the King’s Cup in Spain, the equivalent of the English FA Cup. Depending on when you are reading, the match is just a matter of hours away or a matter of hours behind. Either way, I did not have the benefit of knowing the result at the time of writing, but I am hoping that Real Madrid will win it because that is their best chance of beating Barca to a trophy which I think their (Real’s) run this season truly deserves.
Following is my analysis of the five-match marathon between arguably the best two football clubs in the world at the moment. The players might be bored of seeing each other’s faces, but I am sure that football fans worldwide are enjoying every minute of these classics in what will go down as an unforgettable season.
El-Clasico Series 1 : Spanish League first leg at the Camp Nou. Barcelona 5, Real Madrid 0.
At the start of the season, I tipped Real Madrid to finally win the Spanish league because I thought new coach Jose Mourinho would tighten up the defence line which had let them down last season under Manuel Pellegrini. Indeed, Mourinho brought in Ricardo Carvalho from Chelsea to pair Pepe in central defence and Real stopped leaking goals.
However, I think Mourinho and his men underrated the Barcelona ball-holding and ball-passing machine oiled by Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta when they (Real) visited Barcelona and decided to go head-to-head in an open play at Camp Nou. My observation is that Real thought they could match Barca probably because they also had superstars like Ronaldo, Higuain and Xabi Alonso in their line-up.
When Barca scored early through Xavi, Madrid’s “superstars” rushed forward in search of an equalizer thereby leaving huge gaps in midfield and defence for Barca’s pass-masters to stroll in and score at will. In the end, the 5-0 scoreline could have been wider.
El-Clasico Series 2 : Spanish League second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu. Real Madrid 1, Barcelona 1.
Last weekend, Real finally played Barcelona the way I always thought Mourinho would play them. Even though Real were at home, they approached the game defensively by playing an extra man (Pepe) just in front of two other centre backs (Carvalho and Raul Albiol). Barcelona still dominated possession like they would against ANY TEAM in the world. But unlike the first leg, goal scoring chances were hard to create for Messi and company because Real squeezed out the space and everybody (including Ronaldo) defended like mad men. This, in my reckoning, is the ONLY way to stop Barcelona, although Real later paid a price by conceding a penalty kick from which Messi put the Catalans in front.
The implication of Real’s defensive tactics was that they had to rely on fast breaks and set pieces for goal-scoring opportunities. When you have very quick and skillful players like Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil and Marcelo, that is a reasonable risk to take and it eventually paid off with Ronaldo hitting a post from a free kick, before finally scoring also from the penalty spot to tie the game 1-1.
Barcelona were still the better side, but I would say it was a fair result for both sides. Barca retained their 8-point lead in their march to the La Liga title, while Real regained some of their pride that was brutally battered last November at Camp Nou.
El-Clasico Series 3: Spanish King’s Cup final at Estadio de Mestalla, Valencia.
With Barcelona having tightened their grip on the League title, it is my desire to see Real Madrid win the Spanish King’s Cup so that the domestic spoils will be shared. Also, I believe it is Real’s best chance to beat Barca because it is a one-leg tie that could go either way as we saw with “Noisy Neighbours” Manchester City beating Manchester United in the English FA Cup semi-final at Wembley Stadium last Saturday.
Just one moment of magic could fetch Real an early goal that they would be in a position to defend. But they would have to work hard for it against the best team in the world.
El-Clasico Series 4 and 5 : Champions League semi-finals, first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu, second leg at the Camp Nou.
Jose Mourinho will be looking to repeat his semi-final conquest of Barcelona in last year’s Champions League when he led Inter Milan to build a 3-1 first leg lead at the San-Siro, then held out for a 1-0 loss at Camp Nou for a 3-2 aggregate triumph. Pep Guardiola is familiar with the tactic and he will be the favourite to out-fox Mr. Mourinho this time around.
Nonetheless, the first leg will still be very crucial and we can expect Real to pack the bus in the midfield and defence again just like they did last weekend in the El-Clasico Series 2. But something tells me that Barcelona will eventually triumph over the two legs and pick the ticket to the Champions League finals at Wembley.
Who is complaining of El-Clasico Overdose? Certainly, not me. Let the fun continue.
I WAS just about settling down at my desk on Monday morning when a devastating text message arrived from John Mastoroudes : “Mumini, bad news. Bayo Adefemi, our Eagles right back died this morning in a car accident in Greece. I’m so sad.”
What?! I was speechless. I called Mastoroudes immediately. He told me that he had been reading Greek newspapers on the internet early in the morning when he stumbled on the news item that Adefemi had died. He (Adefemi) was on the way to the airport where he was due to connect a flight to Nigeria to finalise his wedding plans.
That piece of additional information devastated me the more. The young man was coming for love, and he had met death on the way. How shattering the news would be for his bride-to-be.
But what can we do now, other than console Adefemi’s loved ones and the rest of his family. I was probably one of the first people to hear the sad news because when I asked our news editor, Dele Boluwaji, to confirm with the family, they were not even aware of the tragedy at the time. But then David Meshioye of Complete Sports Saturday checked Greek newspapers on the internet and the sad story was confirmed.
Reaction from readers was instantaneous when the news was uploaded on the Complete Sports website.
Everybody remembered Adefemi as one of the “Siasia Boys” that did us proud at the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship and the 2008 Olympics Football tournament. How could they forget him so soon, anyway.
For me, my enduring memory of the player would be his performance in the Olympic final against Argentina where he foiled virtually every attack that was launched through his right back position. A close second to that would be his post-match photograph with Argentina legend Diego Maradona.
May Adefemi’s soul rest in peace. And may God give his family the fortitude to bear the painful loss, amen.
LAST WEEK in this column, I tried to look at the funny side of the 2011 General Elections. But there was nothing funny about what happened in some parts of the country on Monday after the presidential votes.
Normally, the messages that I receive from SOCCERTALK readers are about my column and general happenings in the world of football. But the one that I got from a certain “Dr. Doe” (not his real names) on Monday morning made my hair straighten up : “Hi Mumini. Malumfasi is burning. PDP members’ houses are being set ablaze. Please tell the world our plight. Save our souls!”
My heart sank. The desperation in the sms was unmistakable. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to read it until early evening when I normally checked my inbox.
I called “Dr. Doe” immediately and I was relieved when he picked his phone to say that the riots had subsided. But a lot of arson had been committed by the protesters.
My simple plea to all the youth of Nigeria is this : since we all claim to love sports so much, let us be sportsmanlike. Elections are about winning and losing and they shouldn’t result in arson and killing. I beg you all in the name of God to let peace reign.
God bless Nigeria.
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