Monday, December 15, 2008

High times

‘I’m still on a high’ said Ben as we walked back from the party last night.

That was some high, almost 24 hours after the end of el clasico, the thrilling encounter between Barca and Real Madrid, that we were privileged to attend.

I can’t remember a football game I have seen with so much atmosphere, tension and excitement and the wonderful denouement of course of the Barca victory with two late goals. .

Virtually full, the Camp Nou was packed with some 96,000 cules wanting revenge against their fiercest enemy – revenge for the humiliation of last April when Barca applauded Real on to their own pitch after they had won La Liga and then swooned to lose 1-4 in a spineless pathetic display.

Now, Barca, playing some of the finest football of any club team in Europe, were 9 points ahead of Madrid, who had lost 3 games out of 4, had a dreadful injury list and had just sacked their manager. Even the saner papers here were predicting margins of 5-0 and 6-1, all of which were utter nonsense.

The fierce rain only added to the charged atmosphere. We got soaked as we got off the bus, soaked as we ate our sandwiches outside the Rala 2 bar and soaked as we walked down to the ground. Unlike the 70,000 or so fans exposed in the open seats, we were at least under cover for the duration of the match.

What followed was 93 minutes of hyper charged football as Barca totally dominated possession but came up against a Real so obdurate, so determined and at times so dirty that it looked like they would steal a point. No pasaran, the rallying cry of the Republican La Pasionara in the Civil War, had been adopted as the unifying force of Madrid defence. Time again Cannavaro blocked shots with every part of his body, while Casillas made extraordinary saves from Messi and Eto’o, not least from the 75th minute penalty.

Next to us, a Catalan descended into the depths of despair, fearing that not only would Barca fail to score, but that Real would break away and steal an improbable victory, which they threatened to do more than once.

Finally, scrappily, Eto’o forced the ball over the line from a corner with seven minutes left and the whole stadium went berserk. Ben hugged the Catalan and high fived the Austrian sitting on my right. Madrid, falling 12 points behind, saw their season ebbing away.

Eight minutes later Barca broke away again and, as Messi lobbed Casillas, Cannavaro ended up injuring himself on the post as he desperately tried, but failed, to keep the ball out. The symbolism of one of the world’s great defenders lying on the ground in agony in the pouring rain as 96,000 fans went beyond ecstasy was almost tragic.

Beyond the stadium, Sarah had switched on belatedly at home to watch the extraordinary finale. Bex had watched in a packed bar in Sitges. Around the city, and all of Catalonia, people poured out of bars and homes to celebrate and let off firecrackers.

We walked home amid a cacophony of beeping motorbikes and got soaked yet again. High? We didn’t even notice the rain …

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