El Clasico of the Century?




As one former Barcelona player puts it: “It is the game of the century, even if there are eight of them a year.” It is a comment not just on the excellence and the expectation that comes with Real Madrid v Barcelona but also on their eclipse of all else, on the dominance and potential dilution of a rivalry in which they have played each other 19 times in the last four seasons and will meet at least once more this and in which they alone account for over 60% of Spanish football fans and millions more round the world; on the pressure, the power and the politics; on the way every meeting appears to end eras and close cycles, epochs defined in a day; and on the impossibility of ever living up to the hype.

The game of the century? This time it might just have been. The clásicoof the century, at least. When the final whistle went just before 11 o’clock on Sunday night, they embraced, exhausted but exhilarated. And that was just the fans. High in the north stand, there were 300 Barcelona supporters and they leapt up and down. Below, Barcelona’s players celebrated a 4-3 victory. Madrid’s supporters stared in disbelief, spent. But they’d really lived it too. Even Carlo Ancelotti called it a good game, despite losing.

But this might have been more fun than all of them. It was important too. Madrid’s opportunity was Barcelona’s obligation. Tata Martino described it as a last chance. Defeat would put his side seven points behind their rivals, the title gone. Instead, they are alive; this is a game that has done a service to Spanish football – a deeper one even than it first appeared. At the end, everybody was trying to catch their breath. First Barcelona led, then Real Madrid did, twice, and finally Barcelona did again. From 0-1 to 2-1, from 2-2 to 3-2 and from 3-3 to 3-4: seven goals, three penalties one red card and one wide open title race.

AS’s front page called it “a footballing storm”. Marca called it “beautiful, full of emotion”. Few, though, expressed it like El Mundo Deportivo, who were chucking the exclamation marks around with abandon. “DELIRIUM!” ran the headline on the front page. “MONUMENTAL” it said on the next page. “Everything is possible!” came next. Then “Immense!”. 

All season there have been debates and doubts but this was Barcelona being Barcelona, racking up 708 passes to Madrid’s 336, and creating 17 shots; they could claim to have deserved this victory. Yet there was not much in it and Madrid claim to have deserved it too. At 2-1 and again at 3-2, Madrid had looked more likely to win; equally, at 1-0 Barcelona could have made it 2-0 or 3-0 and suddenly found themselves 2-1 down. “We were in control at 3-2,” Ancelotti said, which might have been an exaggeration but Barcelona never had it easy and if they claimed possession it did not always bring them the security they sought.

This was a brilliant game, too much fun, too much going on, too significant for the league, to focus on the referee; a game in which records fell and the football flowed. Only once before had there been more goals in a clásico this century. The first goal was Messi’s 19th in the clásico, more than anyone else ever, and two more followed. For the first time in 101 games, Ronaldo had scored but Madrid had lost. And Alves beat Madrid for the 13th time – a new historic record in La Liga. 

“There’s no point talking about Messi. It’s eulogy after eulogy and record after record. I just hope he gives me the match ball! I think he broke another record today, didn’t he?” Martino said. “We knew that either the league restarted or it was completely over. Now we’re totally back in it.”

Spain’s two biggest teams, the world’s biggest clubs, rekindled the greatest rivalry in sport and this time it did live up to the hype. The game of the century. 

You can read Sid Lowe’s entire article here on the guardian’s website.

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