El Clasico: A Tale of Two Penalties
If you're in town over the next few weeks you're sure to get caught up in El Clasico fever taking over Spain right now. The two giants of Spanish football met for the second time in La Liga on Saturday (the first was an embarrassing 5-0 victory to Barca at Camp Nou), and will meet again on Wednesday for the final of the Copa del Rey domestic cup. After that there's the small matter of a two-leg Champions League semi-final to play in. No wonder the political machinations of both teams are in overdrive right now!
Leaving aside the tit-for-tats, Saturday's game was an entertaining, keenly-fought contest, even if it lacked a bit of razzmatazz. Barca sought to play in their usual style, but perhaps wary of the pace of Madrid's front men, didn't push too far up the field. Real meanwhile took a combative approach, led by the excellent Pepe, and tried to move the ball quickly on the counter. Good defending by both teams meant that out and out chances were at a premium, and in the end the game's fate was decided by penalty incidents - some given, some not.
The first took place when David Villa beat Casillas to the ball in the area and took a tumble. No doubt that the forward knew what he was doing, but neutrals would agree that the Real keeper got a get-out-of-jail-free card dealt by the referee when he decided there was nothing in it. The next claim came when Albiol tussled with Villa in the area. There was no let off the defender however who was not only whistled but red carded as well. No stranger to playing Barcelona with 10 men, Mourinho let his feelings known in the post match conference.
Needless to say Messi made no mistake from the penalty spot, and at one nil to Barca and with 11 vs. 10, sensible spectators expected the three points to return to Catalonia. However Mourinho gambled on attack, throwing on Ozil and Adebayor, and his bravery paid off when Alves was judged to have brought down Marcelo in the box. Replays were inconclusive, although it was obvious that Marcelo made the most of minimal contact - in fact Alves later claimed Marcelo admitted to diving. Ronaldo was equally clinical from the spot as Messi had been earlier, and the teams were forced to share the points.
The fun starts again on Wednesday however.