More than any other matchup, the coming together of Barcelona and Madrid forces apart the usually shared preferences of the cultfootball brain trust. So today’s match was one where both sides could come away feeling they’d won some important battles, if not the war.
The game was not 90 minutes of pure flowing football. Legs were raked and dives were performed. Tempers flared – Iker Casillas grabbed and shoved his way through the entire Barcelona side to argue with the ref at one point. And with both Pepe and Dani Alves on the pitch there were always going to be strong odds for a dastardly cheap shot somewhere in there. But Alves was more interested in shooting on goal today, and his 45th minute screamer into the upper left corner is a definite contender for goal of the copa.
Alves made it 2-0 after Pedro, on for the injured Iniesta, slid home into an open corner. It was standard Barça stuff so far. The first goal made by Messi, drawing four defenders as he charged to goal, only to suddenly change direction and flick a perfectly weighted ball to the onrushing Pedro. The second goal a wonder strike. Untouchable and unrepeatable.
But it wasn’t Barça dominating and finally breaking through. Madrid had come to the Camp Nou ready to attack and Gonzalo Higuaín had two early chances he simply wasted. Then Mesut Özil, who had been combining well with Kaka on his right and Ronaldo on his left, sent a curling left-footer thirty yards toward the upper corner of the goal. It beat the keeper and rattled off the underside of the bar before bouncing away to safety. Alves’ fantastic goal ten minutes later would have seemed a good deal less amazing if Ozil’s strike had found its mark.
Heading in at halftime Barcelona had shot twice, scored twice. Madrid had more chances, but weren’t bringing players forward quickly enough to play a possession game in Barça’s half. That changed in the second period, when Mourinho made three changes, bringing in Esteban Granero, Karim Benzema, and José Callejón for Diarra, Higuain and Kaka, respectively. Within 15 minutes the game was 2-2. Ronaldo was set free by a piercing pass off the foot of Germany’s Ozil, and Benzema acrobatically brought down a cross before smashing home the tying goal. Along the way Callejón had a perfect cross skid off his pompadour that would’ve helped the effort.
The remainder of the game saw a few more chances go begging for both sides, the customary double yellow (Madrid do tend to foul about twice as much as Barça, with many of those calls Messi-related), and Pepe being whistled like crazy by the crowd whenever he touched the ball. But for all their finally realised quality, it was simply not Madrid’s day. They bossed the second half, and never in the past three years has Barça looked so rattled and Madrid so ascendent. The teams that win it all have that extra bit of belief and can manufacture that extra bit of luck. For now, Barça remains the team of the moment. But for how long?