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Friday, May 6, 2011


The semi-finals for the European Cup ("Champions" League, call it what you will) have concluded, with Barcelona due to take on Manchester United at Wembley on 28/5/11. Now, Fergie's Sons of Satan demolished Schalke 04 4:1 yesterday evening - it could have been more, much as it pains me to say so - and 6:1 on aggregate; they will take on Barcelona in the final, after Barca's 1:1 at home in the Camp Nou against Real Madrid.

There will doubtless be pantheons of punters eulogising over the Red Filth getting to Wembley - yours truly will not be one of them. Also, I will not be casting an eye over their semi-final clash with Schalke, but instead over Barca-Real - El Clasico, a clash which Barcelona won 3:1 on aggregate, and deservedly so. The first leg, played last Wednesday at the Estadio Bernabeu in Madrid, came a week after Real defeated Barcelona 1:0 in the final of the Copa del Rey in Valencia, but scarce fitted the description of a game of football, apart from the fact the Barca won 2:0, courtesy of a double from Lionel Messi.

In a game in which there were more cards given out than at a Hallmark promotion, Real's Pepe was sent off following a crude, nay, primitive, challenge, while Real manager Jose Mourinho was sent to the stands after protesting Pepe's red card and "complementing" the referee, via the fourth official, on his player's expulsion.

Mourinho's Merengues held the psychological cards before the first-leg, having won the Copa del Rey in Valencia the week before. They were soon ripped up apart after Messi's double and, in addition to Pepe's red card,  yellow cards were also given to Real players Sergio Ramos, Arbeloa and Emanuel Adebayor. Barcelona also played their part in the shenanigans, with reserve 'keeper José Pinto getting red-carded after an altercation at the entrance to, and in, the tunnel at half-time, and Daniel and Javier Mascherano also entering the referee Wolfgang Sterk's note-book.

Lionel Messi, almost inevitably, was the difference between the two teams, scoring both Barca goals in the last 15 minutes, the first after some fine work by Ibrahim Afellay, while the second was all Messi's doing, picking the ball up some 40 yards from Real's goal, leading the defence a merry dance before slotting the ball past Iker Casillas.

After the game, the war of words, which began after the teams' first meeting out of the four clashes over the past few weeks, continued, with rattles and dummies flying out of prams all over the place. Real's players and, in particular, manager Moaninho went on the attack more in the media than on the pitch, screaming and screaming until they were almost sick. UEFA, referee Sterk and Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola all got the Mourinho treatment. The self-styled 'Special One' said: "It's clear that against Barcelona you have no chance".

His diatribe got steadily more ridiculous, and, to quote the BBC website, is reported to have said: '"I don't know if it's the publicity of Unicef [the club's shirt sponsor], I don't know if it's because they are very nice, but they've got this power."  
"I don't know if it's the friendship of [Spanish football federation president Angel Maria] Villar at UEFA, where he is vice-president,"'  Mourinho went on. Villar is also Barcelona's vice-president.

Meanwhile, Real striker Emmanuel Adebayor, who, as everyone knows, is not one to provoke the opposition or their supporters, said this (again, according to the BBC website):

"Everyone talks about Barcelona and their fair play but I think they are very far away from fair play. Whenever you make contact when going for a one-on-one or 50-50 ball they are on the floor crying, putting their hand up near their face. Their manager, fans and the players on the bench are always crying. Barcelona is a fantastic club, has fantastic players, but they have to stop that."

UEFA decided to charge both teams with various offences, and both teams laid charges against each other at the door of European football's rulers, both of which were rejected. UEFA will rule on their charges tomorrow, which deal with the sendings-off and Mourinho's behaviour at the Bernabeu.
Back to Mourinho again, and his former protegé Guardiola was the next target of his wrath. "I hope that one day [Guardiola] will win a clean Champions League, with no incidents behind it," he said, referring back to Chelsea's clash with Barca in the Champions' League in 2009, when the referee turned down four penalty appeals for the Blues during the Stamford Bridge leg of the tie. Ooh, the insinuation!

Even before the first leg, Mourinho had accused Guardiola of being a one-man group of coaches which criticised referees for making correct decisions. Obviously, Mourinho had confused Guardiola with Sir Alex Ferguson..

Fast-forward to the second leg on Tuesday past, and the day before, Real published a video on their website which "showed" Barca player Sergio Busquets calling his Real counterpart Marcelo a "monkey" during the first leg. Real coach Aitor Katanka, acting as Mourinho's substitute in the press-room, claimed that his club had been severely punished, and that there were Barcelona "players who didn't respect the principles of fair play or who made racist insults" who would be playing in the second leg. These allegations are disturbing and must be acted upon. If proven false, however, more hot water could be cascading in the direction of the Bernabeu.

The game itself ended in a 1:1 draw, with Shakira's current shake (and main reason why she, along with her music, is no longer welcome at the Estadio Bernabeu) Pedro putting Barcelona ahead, coolly slotting home after receiving a pass from Andres Iniesta which could have sliced through what was left of Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding-cake, never mind the Merengues' defence. Real Madrid equalised through Marcelo, who rifled home the rebound from Angel di Maria's effort which hit the left-hand post of Valdes' goal.

It was a much more entertaining game than the first leg, which, in all fairness, says very little. If Higuain's effort, disallowed after Cristiano was adjudged to have fouled Mascherano in the build-up, had stood, it would surely have made things more interesting. A draw was probably a little more than what Real Madrid deserved, but with Barcelona, as always, trying to score the perfect goal involving everybody from Valdes to the ball-boys, that is how it ended.

The other notable event of the night was Éric Abidal's injury-time return to the Barca team after the successful removal of a malignant tumor from his liver. (Good to see him back, and fingers crossed for a bright future for him, both on and off the pitch.)

It wasn't quite as bad-tempered as the first game, though Real's Ricardo Carlvalho probably deserved three red cards for his standard of fouling. Apart from his failure to send Carvalho off, Belgian man in the middle Frank de Bleekere had an impressive game in charge and kept things calm. Real did win the yellow-card count, though, 5:1.

Cristiano Ronaldo's funky chicken impression, performed every time he failed to receive the ball from a team-mate, and Mascherano's roll, howl, wave and roll routine in the second-half were the moments of humour the game badly needed.

After the game, Real began trampling the sour grapes once again, with 'keeper Iker Casillas claiming that they were "tricked by the officials." It is unclear whether his missus, TV reporter Sara Carbonero, obtained first refusal on his post-match musings, and there is no evidence to suggest that the referee, Frank de Bleekere, or his assistants belong to the Magician's Guild of Belgium.

Aitor Karanka, meanwhile, weighed in again, this time with a dig at de Bleekere's performance. "Mourinho [who was, so it goes, watching the game with his feet up on the bed in his hotel-room] was right. He said that it would be impossible for us to go through. Tonight proved that it was impossible and 100 million people saw it - there is nothing more to add." (Karanka is correct. If your team don't score and the opposition does, then it is impossible for your team to go through.)

Xabi Alonso was next to get up on the soap-box, saying: "Many bad decisions were made against us and we are not happy about that. We think we did a good job but we feel decisions really went against us." (Quite a number of decisions also went Real's way as well, it has to be said.)

However, the best was to be saved until last, when Cristiano Ronaldo took the stand, letting rip on the Real Madrid website. Here is a selection of absolute crackers from Portugal's finest footballing funster:

"Whoever knows anything about football knows that Barcelona get preferential treatment. We knew something would happen. We knew that if we scored a goal that everything would be done to keep us from going through.
This isn't good for football. We should just stay home and allow Barcelona to play alone if things don't change."

"Next year they might as well give the cup directly to Barcelona." (Michel Platini might just do that himself at Wembley in three weeks' time..)

"Barcelona have a lot of power off the pitch. We would have drawn 0-0 without the Alves incident and tonight's draw would have seen us through. There are no differences between the teams as was seen thoughout the four matches."

"We won the Copa del Rey by playing fairly. I don't feel that Barcelona were better than us, but rather that they have a lot of help from the referees." (Did the Barcelona bus break down and de Bleekere & Co give them a hand to push-start it again?)

"The name of the match is Mission Impossible IV. Once again it was the referee that didn't allow us to dictate the outcome. We knew we could beat Barca, but the referee didn't let us."

Ronaldo's final quote will surely be remembered for years to come for the masterful use of irony.

"[Mascherano] didn't used to fall to the ground in England, but he's picked up the bad habit of doing it here like everyone else."

If that had come from anyone else other than the hot favourite for the 10-Metre Springboard event at the London Olympics.. The next-door neighbour laughed so much at this that he spat his false teeth out and they hit the dog.

Former Real president, Ramón Calderón, criticised Mourinho and his charges for their attitude both on and off the pitch.

"Big clubs should not blame the referee for their mistakes or their defeats," he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"We invested £400m in the last two years to be a very important and strong team so if you lose you cannot blame injuries, bad luck, referees or nothing. If you lose you have to congratulate the rival and that is all."

"What he [Mourinho] did in terms of talking about Uefa and referees is not acceptable at all."

Calderón is correct; there is a fine line between expressing an opinion and indulging in pure vitriol and childish tantrums. Real Madrid have been doing too much of the latter over the past few weeks, and while they have busied themselves with losing their heads, Barcelona have reached the Champions League final, which will take place at Wembley Stadium on 28/5/11.

Manchester United, and Sir Alex "The Great Satan" Ferguson, their gum-chewing Scottish version of Jose Moaninho, together with sidekick Mike "Uncle Fester" Phelan, await. More of the same, in other words: good versus evil, skilled players against sulkers, perfectionists against protagonists.

All joshing aside, the final may well turn out to be just the same as the Barca-Real semi-final, with Barcelona playing beautiful football until the final third and then trying in vain to score the perfect goal, and Manchester United counter-attacking, and then putting on the presssure for the last ten minutes or so. It will be a very interesting game of football, and it may well go to penalties.

Almost as an aside, and just to finish, many Dutch journalists and members of the nation's general public have all been muttering the same mantra this week: "Wouldn't it be great if Edwin van der Sar could end his career by winning the Premier League and the Champions League?"

Erm, no. Absolutely not.

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