Real Madrid Lay Hands on the Copa del Rey

April 21, 2011 — by Sean5

Less than a week after their hard fought tie in league play, Madrid and Barça met in the final of the King’s Cup. Mourinho sent his defensive set into the midfield again, then put in Özil from the start for an added touch of creativity in attack, and sprinkled the whole side with an extra dose of aggression dust.

The force of Madrid’s tackling and their quickness in closing down the Barça players immediately unstabilized the usually unflappable Blaugrana. On the strength of their defense and their quick counter attack, Madrid had far the better of the first half. Pepe seemed to be everywhere and Ronaldo did very well as the lone striker up top (even with Mascherano shadowing his every move). The game moved quickly up and down the pitch, but Barcelona weren’t finding any joy past the midfield circle and it wasn’t until nearly the 40th minute that they finally caused an overload close to goal (the chance fizzled without them manufacturing a shot).

Their one foray aside, Barcelona were lucky to get to the halftime whistle tied at zeroes, especially after Pepe’s towering header above Dani Alves smashed against the inside post and deflected at an agonizing angle across the goal mouth.

The second half was a different game entirely. Barcelona were rejuvenated by whatever spanking Pep Guardiola gave them in the dressing room, and they came out with the sort of belly fire you expect from the best team of their generation. Suddenly the game was stretched (in part because Madrid were pushing more into attack, but also because Xavi and Pedro were drawing out Pepe and Khedira more successfully) leaving Iniesta room to move through the middle.

It was in fact Iniesta who turned the game in Barça’s favor. In the first half, the playmaker forced passes into Messi and Villa only to find them sitting inside a trap. In the second half the tiny balding Spaniard held the ball and ran past the first defensive line of Madrid, then worked in closer proximity to his strikers so they could work the tiki taka. As soon as they found their rhythm the counter attack of Madrid started to look more like desperate clearing rather than pointed reply.

If not for Iker Casillas, Barça would have gone ahead in the second half, and considering the state of Madrid at the time they would probably not have found a way back. Spain’s number one tapped away a lovely chipped ball by Pedro and pushed aside an Iniesta strike destined for the corner.

It looked as if the game would head for extra time, until Madrid managed an odd man rush at the very end of the 90 minutes and di María found himself free to test Pinto from just outside the box. Valdés’s stand-in managed to palm the floating attempt above the bar and it was onto the next 30 minutes. More of the same for the most part. Hard tackling from Madrid but Barcelona with better control, though the chances had dried up.

Sergio "Butterfingers" Ramos drops the Copa del Rey under the party bus

Then just past the 100 minute mark Madrid found their way through the center of the pitch by way of another Pepe tackle. Marcelo swung the ball out to di María who got a toe in front of Alves to lift a far-side cross to the slicked head of Cristiano Ronaldo. The glistening head of the Portugese directed the ball past the unbalanced Pinto — Madrid 1 – 0 Barcelona.

Substitutions were made by both sides in the final fifteen minutes, but the score remained the same, and Real Madrid walked away with their first Copa del Rey in eighteen years. Then, Sergio Ramos dropped it under the party bus on the way back from the airport…


Champions League: What We Saw

September 16, 2010 — by Sean

What more can I do?

The cultfootball brain trust was huddled around a giant screen for three of yesterday’s matches, though we tended to pause longer on Real Madrid v Ajax a bit more than the others. Whereas the Chelsea and Arsenal matches were blowouts, Real always looked like they might give one up on the counter, and Ajax are no slacks— though their real standout was the keeper Maarten Stekelenburg (who you may remember from the World Cup). We didn’t have the chance to see the other games as we don’t have Direct TV, the bastards.

On a night when Real’s strikers had ample opportunity to shut down the game, Stekelenburg consistently provided no angle for glory. There were nearly 20 shots between Higuaín, Ronaldo, and di María, and only Higuaín put the ball away (and only from very close range for what we thought were a couple of slop goals). Ronaldo’s shots  were particularly funny to us, sour grapes mostly because once he breaks his duck you just know the goals will come pouring in.

Higuaín on the other hand doesn’t look like much of a superstar striker. He does have a deceptively quick first step, exhibited mostly in closing down defenders, but he doesn’t exactly play with his head up. Still, he finds himself the right positions to slam home easy goals, and that’s a skill of high value, though often overlooked for carefully crafted movement finished off with a precision volley or some curling dipper.

Real’s attacking movement was created almost completely by some combination of Marcelo, Özil, and di María. The three looked fantastic, especially the Turkish German, and it gives me some sense that Mourinho won’t settle on an entirely defensive-minded strategy in the season to come. Only time will tell of course, as the true test will be El Clásico on the 28th of November.

Oh, and did I mention the most important member of the cultfootball team?

What up, ladies?

Live Blog

Liveblogging Brazil v Portugal

June 25, 2010 — by Sean9

In what promises to be the most entertaining match of Group of Death play, the 5-time cup winners take on their mother nation in what is essentially a showcase (as both squads are sure for the next round, unless of course Portugal lose and Ivory Coast win by 9 goals).

Lots of Portuguese being spit about the field, but we expect a pretty and clean game as Brazil are on the verge of finding their flair, while Portugal have quality peppered around the field, plus superstar gay icon Christiano Ronaldo.

We’ll cover the afternoon games as well, but for now, roubaram-me o relógio! Oops, we mean, aqui vamos nós!