Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid welcomed Pep Guardiola and Barcelona to the Bernabeu for tonight’s Champions League semi-final. Here’s how the action unfolded.
18.56 – Evening all.
It seems like forever since I’ve had a chance to watch Madrid and Barcelona test their wits against one another. Well, a week is a long time in the world of sport, right?
I’ll valiantly try to keep you entertained for the next 45 minutes or so until kick-off, but really I’ll just be watching Ronnie O’Sullivan versus John Higgins. I presume nobody has any objections to that.
Before I switch over to the Beeb, I’ll give you tonight’s team news. Hang tight.
19.00 – Firstly, here are your hosts for this evening’s game.
Real Madrid: Casillas; Arbeloa, Albiol, Pepe, S.Ramos; Diarra, Marcelo, Xabi Alonso; Di María, Ozil, C.Ronaldo.
19.01 – And here are the visitors.
FC Barcelona: Valdes; Dani Alves, Pique, Busquets, Puyol; Xavi, Mascherano, Keita; Pedro, Messi, Villa.
19.06 – Of course, the eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that there is no Andres Iniesta in Barcelona line-up. He’s out injured which means that Seydou Keita steps in to deputise.
19.11 – Unless you’ve been swamped with work or cut off from the outside world all day, you’ll know that this evening’s game has a teeny tiny edge to it after Jose and Pep decided to have a little bit of a verbal spat in the media yesterday.
19.16 – Alternatively, you can spend the next half-hour reading Paul Ring’s excellent study guide to tonight’s fixture which contains gems such as this:
1 – That is the number of goals scored in open play that these two managed in 210 minutes of action over the past ten days.
3-3 draw it is then, especially when the absence of Ricardo Carvalho is taken into account and the fact that Javier Maschearano may be asked to plug a hole in the Barca defence. Calculators at the ready.
19.25 – Just in case anyone ever doubted TheScore.ie’s global appeal, here’s an e-mail which has just dropped into my inbox from Ruairi Sparks.
I am sitting in an office in Aruba, there was some deliberation on what minute-by-minute report I should go for. You, the Beeb or the Guardian. I expect to be justly rewarded.
I’ll save the geographically-challenged among you a little bit of effort by explaining that Aruba is a 33 km-long island of the Lesser Antilles in the southern Caribbean Sea, located 27 km north of the coast of Venezuela.
19.26 – Yes, of course I had to look that up on Wikipedia – who do you think I am, Christopher Colombus?
19.34 – The predictions are starting to come in and the general indication is that nobody has the slightest clue how things are going to pan out. Some for Madrid, some for Barca, others for a tense and boring draw.
In fact, on the balance of things, more people are probably going for a home win. Murph says 2-1 as do a couple of others. Darren Devereux agrees on the scoreline but has stuck his neck out even further by predicting at least one sending off as well, while Garret Brady reckons that CR7 is a decent bet for the only goal of the game.
Where are all the lovers of the beautiful game this evening?
19.37 – There he is – Garreth Nunn (he of the Spanish Corner fame) has boldly predicted a 3-1 win for Pep and the lads.
To be honest, I’m not too pushed about the result once there’s a couple of goals. If I spend the next two hours writing sentences about Ronaldo and Row Z, I’ll be inconsolable.
19.39 – Those of you with any interest in the snooker will probably be interested to hear that Higgins has won the first frame of this evening’s session, giving him a 9-8 lead over Ronnie. First to 13 in the Crucible – I’ll keep you posted as the night progresses.
19.42 – Alas, due to some complications in my travel arrangements, I couldn’t be in the Bernabeu this evening. All is not lost though – at least now I can listen to the razor-sharp insights of Billo and the lads on RTE.
Exhibit A: Brady reckons that the only difference between Messi and Ronaldo is that one is a better sportsman than the other. Two stunning footballers and that’s the best analysis he can come up with? I despair.
19.44 – The teams have just arrived out onto the pitch. Time to play some Zadok the Priest very loudly.
19.45 – The Bernabeu is absolutely buzzing and, as the Champions League anthem blasts through my headphones, so is my little corner of the office. Hairs standing up on my arms – I cannot wait.
Please don’t disappoint …
19.46 – And we’re off, Madrid playing from left to right.
19.50 – A lovely little piece of training ground tekkers from Xavi to get the evening’s action underway. He lets the ball drop about 30 yards out before unleashing a perfectly-struck volley which Casillas clutches tightly.
19.52 – There’s a little bit of early niggle in this one as expected. No real malice, just sly little kicks and sloppy tackles.
Our referee this evening is Mr Wolfgang Stark of Germany – wonder if he’s a Schalke fan?
19.53 – Of course, this little bit of early niggle means that players feel they have carte blanche to roll around the pitch and generally spend some time on their backsides licking their wounds.
Get on with it lads please.
19.55 – While I watch both sides struggle to settle, Gav has been doing some detective work on my behalf:
Re “Mr Wolfgang Stark of Germany” – WorldReferee.com (yes, there IS such a thing, and yes, I AM stunned) says he’s a bank official from Bavaria, in which case he probably supports Bayern. From my year living there I picked up that native Munchners themselves tend to support 1860, and the rest of the Bavarian provence supports Bayern…
19.57 – Oooooh. The game’s first real shot comes from Villa who cuts inside Pepe before attempting to curl one around Marcelo and inside Casillas’ right post from about 20 yards out. It ends up about a foot wide but Real should really be aware that they can’t allow him even a yard of space tonight.
19.59 – That chance aside, Barca have been doing that thing where they refuse to let their opponents have a touch of the ball. I would imagine that’s absolutely infuriating if you’re playing against them.
20.00 – Possession stats after 10 minutes – Real 24%, Barcelona 76%.
See what I mean?
20.02 – Quick question as I know it’s exam time for a lot of students and others. Is anybody reading the liveblog or watching the game from a particularly interesting or unusual location tonight. If the answer is the toilet, I’d rather not know.
20.04 – This is starting to get a little bit ridiculous. Barca’s back four diamond are knocking the ball between them and C-Ron is the only Madrid player who seems to have any sort of desire to win it back. He eventually gives up and turns to his team mates, manically waving his arms as if to say “you do realise we’re allowed try to take the ball away from them, don’t you?”
20.05 – Snooker Update: Higgins 10-9 O’Sullivan
20.10 – Madrid have started to press a little bit harder over the last few minutes, but at the moment the game still resembles a game of chess in which both players just keep moving their pieces one square forwards and one square backwards in the hope that their opponents fall asleep.
20.12 – A beautiful reverse through ball from Messi sets Xavi free inside the Madrid box but Casillas gets down smartly to stop before Ramos steps in to pick up the pieces. I don’t think that Xavi realised it at the time but Messi was haring into the box looking for the return pass.
Hopefully we’ll have a few more chances like that. 25 minutes gone so far, still 0-0.
20.16 – The Madrid defence stand off a bit so Xavi has a pop from about 25 yards out as he’s entitled to. It’s always rising though and doesn’t really end up anywhere near Casillas’ goal.
20.19 – I may be stating the obvious but I could sit and watch Leo Messi all day, even in a game like this.
He sets Villa free with a glorious little flick off the outside of his boot but Albiol is alive to the danger and manages to play it off the striker’s midriff/arm to win a goal kick.
20.20 – No goals here as yet but there has been one at Craven Cottage – Clint Dempsey puts Fulham one up against Bolton.
20.22 – Stats time. Apparently Barcelona have had 80% possession with a 94% pass completion rate in the opening half-hour. Still no goals though.
20.23 – Di Maria buys a rather soft free-kick out on the left, tricking our German referee into thinking that Dani Alves had brought him down. Ronaldo slams it straight into the two-man wall.
20.26 – It’s all kicking off here, or maybe not. Pedro crumples to the ground in a heap after what seemed to be a relatively innocuous off-the-ball collision with “Bob” Arbeloa and the Barca players are absolutely livid. After much deliberation, the Madrid defender is booked and we can get back to playing football.
20.31 – At times over the past 44 minutes, I have found myself wishing I was watching Higgins 11-9 O’Sullivan. This is getting a little bit livelier though. Di Maria goes down again under a rather careless challenge from Alves and C-Ron will have another free-kick to hit at the Barca wall. Similar position to the last one, but a little bit further out.
20.34 – Half-Time: Real Madrid 0-0 Barcelona Back in a sec. Send me in some thoughts on the first half and we’ll have a bit of chat during the break.
20.43 – Apparently, the TV cameras cut to an ad break and missed an unseemly brawl on the sidelines. I’d imagine all 22 players will re-emerge for the start of the second half but it’s an incident which has been pretty typical of the attitude of both sides in the first half.
20.45 – RED CARD! Or is it? Nobody seems to know, but the lads on ITV are suggesting that Jose Pinto, the Barca substitute keeper, has been sent off by Mr Stark for his role in that brawl. I wish I could tell you what he did to deserve such punishment but I haven’t the foggiest.
20.47 – This is probably the best summary of the first 45 minutes. Sadly.
20.50 – UEFA have now confirmed the Pinto sending-off. The lads in the RTE studio are suggesting that it is because of a “slap” on Arbeloa as the teams came off the pitch. Having seen the incident again, I can confirm that it was more like he was gently rubbing a small bit of dirt off Arbeloa’s cheek. I refuse to believe that’s what he was sent off for.
20.51 – The teams are back on the pitch and the second half is underway. Any chance you might try to play football this time, lads?
20.52 – One substitution at half-time. Adebayor is on for Ozil.
20.53 – Over in Sheffield, Higgins is now 12-10 up against O’Sullivan and just one frame away from a place in the semi-final against Mark Williams.
20.56 – Adrian reckons that UEFA should follow the GAA’s lead make Barca get togged out in the Hogan Stand in future to avoid tunnel fights.
That raises an interesting question though – which was the better half-time brawl? This one or the one in Croker last Sunday?
20.58 – A bit of a mix-up between Puyol and Pique gives Ronaldo a half-chance inside the Barcelona box but by the time he gets his shot off, Puyol is able to scramble across and get a block in. In an alternate reality in which Madrid were actually getting men forward, there would have been a man on the edge of the box for Ronnie to cut it back to and Real would now be one up.
20.59 – More falling over, whinging and moaning. After Messi beats Alonso and Marcelo, Ramos steps across him to end the run with a body check. He picks up a booking for his troubles and will miss next week’s second leg.
21.03 – Mascher catches Pepe with a slightly late tackle. Pepe rolls around as if he’s been hit by a sniper. Sonny and Cher’s I’ve Got You Babe plays on my clock radio.
21.06 – Pedro is rapidly cementing his place in my “Most Dislikable Footballers XI”. He goes down in the box appealing for a penalty but Marcelo cleanly won the ball and the referee gets it spot on.
21.06 – RED CARD! As a complete neutral, I have to say that this is absolutely disgusting and abhorrent behaviour, totally in keeping with the tone of the game so far. Pepe catches Dani Alves just above the foot with a slightly late tackle and, before the Barca man has even hit the deck, seven – yes, I counted them – of his team mates have surrounded Mr Stark to wave imaginary cards in his face. The referee shows a red card and I feel like crying.
21.11 – In the ensuing melee, Jose was sent to the stand for a couple of ironic winks in the assistant referee’s direction. What an advertisement for the beautiful game this is turning out to be.
21.15 – That could have been Barcelona’s opener there. Villa’s shot is palmed up in the air by Casillas and it flies across the face of the goal where Pedro tries and fails to twist his body and head it into the empty net.
Of course, he rolls around on the ground for a half a minute because that’s what this game has become. Very soon I will resort to using expletives and I really don’t want to do that.
21.16 – Pedro is substituted, Afellay on instead. Pep inadvertently saves my sanity.
21.17 – Twitter appears to be split right down the middle as to whether or not Pepe’s red card was justified. Yes, it was late and yes, it was slightly high. But a straight red? I’m not so sure.
21.20 – Free kick. Ronaldo. Row Z.
21.21 – GOAL! Real 0-1 Barca (Messi, 76′) Who ever said that whinging and moaning doesn’t pay? Barca sub Afellay takes advantage of Marcelo’s momentary slip to nip down to the byline and stick a low cross into the box. Messi beats Ramos to the ball at the near post, guiding the ball through Casillas’ legs from four yards out. Advantage Barca.
21.28 – I could be wrong but I do believe that’s Leo Messi’s 51st goal of the season. Certainly the best in the world at the moment – possibly the best ever?
21.30 – Now that’s a sending off. Adebayor charges through Busquets with his hands raised, shoving the Barca man in the face and flinging him to the ground. He’s only booked. What do I know anyway?
21.32 – GOAL! Real 0-2 Barca (Messi, 87′) And just like that, my faith in football has been almost completely restored. It’s another powerful argument in favour of Leo’s canonization as the best footballer ever. He picks up the ball about 40 yards out and absolutely glides past three Madrid defenders, including a rather static Raul Albiol, before rolling the ball past a helpless Casillas.
21.37 – We’re into the second of three minutes injury time in Madrid which means it’s time for another replay of Messi’s magic. Thank you.
21.38 – FULL TIME: Real Madrid o-2 Barcelona That’s all folks, both for tonight and possibly in terms of the semi-final as a whole.
Let’s call a spade a spade. For 86-and-a-half minutes, it was a game largely distinguished by cheating, bitching, whining and moaning.
Then, the gods of football asked Leo Messi to remind us why this is the game we all love. I’m not sure what the most apt word to describe his goal is so I’ll settle for “sublime.”
Barring at least one miracle in the return fixtures next week, it’s looking like a repeat of the 2008 final between Barca and United.
21.48 – And that’s about all from me for tonight. Thanks for sticking about for the last couple of hours. We’ll be back in the morning with more reaction to tonight’s game.
See you then.