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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Barca Come out Top in El Clasico Marathon

After over 400 minutes of intense and highly controversial nonstop football between two of Spain’s and Europe’s most decorated clubs, the El Clasico marathon finally came to an end Tuesday night when Barcelona welcomed Real Madrid at the Camp Nou for the second leg of their Champions League semifinal clash.

The El Clasico series involved four matches in only 18 days with the all-important Champions League semi-final second leg clash at the Camp Nou bringing it to an end.  Each game was always going to be bigger, fiercer, and certainly more explosive than the last.  The last time something like this happened was way back in 1916 when the two teams matched up in four games in 21 days.

The first of the four El Clasico games between the two teams was contested on Saturday April 16 at Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium. The match ended 1-1 courtesy of two successfully converted penalties from two-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi for the Blaugrana and Cristiano Ronaldo for the Los Blancos. A win could have reignited the Capital club’s chances of catching up with the Catalans in the race for the La Liga crown but this result all but confirmed the Barca as the 2010/11 champions. El Clasico matches are known to be tempestuous and highly contentious and this was no different. Raul Albiol’s sending off was the main talking point heading into the second of the four matchups.

Then came the Copa Del Rey final on April 20 at Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium. Cristiano Ronaldo headed the only goal of the game in the first half of extra time as Jose Mourinho’s men came out on top and won the Copa Del Rey cup, their first in 18 years. Madrid 1-0 ahead.

The third and fourth clashes owed their origins from White Hart Lane where Madridistas beat Tottenham Hotspurs 2-0 (6-0 aggregate) to progress to the semifinals, and Donbass Arena in Ukraine where Barca prevailed with a 6-1 aggregate win over Shakhtar Donetsk to set up another mouthwatering encounter.

Madrid hosted Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu for the penultimate encounter on Wednesday April 27. Dangerman Lionel Messi scored a brace in the final fifteen minutes to give his team an invaluable 2-0 first leg advantage in the fiercest of all the matchups. Portuguese defender Pepe was sent off during the match and so was Barca’s reserve goalkeeper Jose Pinto who was involved in a half-time fracas. Jose Mourinho’s frustration on referee’s decision to dismiss Pepe saw him also get a red card, meaning that he was banned from the touchline for the remainder of the match and also in their return match at Camp Nou.

The heated exchange of words between Barcelona team and their Madrid archrivals after the match are well captured here.

The last part of the epic el-clasico saga this season was the semi final 2nd leg Champions league match at the Nou Camp last night, May 3. Following Barcelona’s 2-0 win in their rivals own backyard, bookmakers tipped the Catalans to easily defend their lead without breaking a sweat. Although Real Madrid have won the competition a record nine times compared to Barca’s three, prevailing over the Catalonians would have been greeted with the shock that Osama would elicit if he was to resurrect from ‘death’.

Madrid’s approach to this match was more ‘football-like’ as compared to the first semi final. Nevertheless, Barca efficiently and feverishly went through their business, a course which was boosted by the return of the metronomic Iniesta Lujan.

Pedro dropped the play-acting antics he deployed in the first leg and gave Barca the lead in the 54th minute to all but kill the game. Angel Di Maria hit the woodwork and the ball luckily got back to his feet before he crossed for Marcelo to draw level for Madrid ten minutes later. However, Pep Guardiola’s men never looked at risk of losing a 3-1 aggregate lead in only 26 minutes. It all ended 1-1 with Barca prevailing 3-1 on aggregate. Needless to mention, there was controversy when Gonzalo Higuain’s goal was harshly disallowed when Ronaldo, who provided the pass leading to the goal, was adjudged to have fouled Mascherano in the build up to the goal.

So after 18 hectic days of hard tackles both on and off the pitch accentuated by public spat among the coaches and between the players and even divisiveness within the Spanish media, the El Clasico series finally came to an end. Barcelona may have gotten the best over Madrid who only got the Copa del Rey trophy out of the matchups but whether they were the most beneficial will only depend on how they fair in Wembley stadium, London where they will meet either Manchester United or Schalke 04 in the 2010/11 Champions league final come May 28.

And That's thesteifmastertake!!