Real Madrid are headed to Moscow, Russia to face CSKA Moskva in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16, to be played on February 21 (midnight or thereabouts of February 22, Manila time). The boys must be currently suffering from cabin fever, given the quality of photos coming from that trip (see below).
Who said weekends were for rest? Not if you’re a football player and a football supporter. I managed to catch three games this weekend (well, it doesn’t even feel like Sunday has already started), so let’s start breaking them down.
Loyola Meralco Sparks – Philippine Air Force
It’s the UFL Cup Finals, and I hauled my ass to Rizal Memorial Stadium to see it live. If the action in the quarterfinals and semifinals were an indication, the final match between these two teams proved to be high on entertainment value.
Ian Araneta scored a goal toward the tail end of the first half to give Air Force the lead 1-0, and boy, there were fireworks already at the Stadium (someone’s upped the production value, I suppose?). One thing to note about the Air Force team—their defense was solid. Goalkeeper Tats Mercado played a stellar game and had solid support from his teammates to deny the Sparks (still can’t get over the girliness of the team name—but it’s so appropriate for Phil Younghusband) a goal.
The second half saw early on a corner awarded to the Sparks—and what could have been the equalizing goal had it not been disallowed. Mark Hartmann was asked to retake the corner kick, and the moment his boot hit the ball, there are two realization (albeit the latter in hindsight): 1) the Sparks were not going to get this one in; and 2) from this moment on, the game was Air Force’s to win. To give credit to the Sparks, they probably had more chances on goal in the second half, but were denied for various reasons, including: Tats Mercado’s hands; the help defense of Air Force; and the crossbar.
And then you got the Air Force captain, bending it in like Bersales to seal the match in favor of the Air Force 2-0. There’s only one Yanti Bersales in Philippine football. And from then on, you can see defeat in the Sparks’ body language.
To see the semi-professional local league culminate the year with this much festivities is quite extraordinary (but I reckon a separate entry is needed for that).
As for me, I crossed the pitch in a state of semi-darkness—stadium lights mostly shut off (because the Meralco team lost, haha), a damp pitch (it was raining early on), and underneath some awesome fireworks.
I thought to myself, this would have been perfect if someone like Xabi Alonso were next to me. (Yeah, I can dream.)
Liverpool – Queens Park Rangers
Let me point out the outrage. ESPN/Star listed Liverpool-QPR on its programme schedules, only to air Manchester United-Wolverhampton Wanderers on TV. Two words: high treason.
In any case, the highlight of the match was Luis Suarez, who made the breakthrough against QPR goalkeeper Radek Cerny early in the second half. Despite the charges files against him before the FA, Suarez continues to put on superb performances for the Red Men. (And really, he can only be more explosive.) This man has the potential to be a Liverpool legend—we can only hope he won’t be lured by the big money anywhere else.
Here’s a video reel of the highlight from Empire of the Kop—essentially, Luis Suarez.
Real Madrid – Barcelona
Ah, El Clasico. Nobody escapes without experiencing a couple of heart attacks. Real Madrid were heavily favored coming into this game—a ten-match winning streak and top of the tables in La Liga, which was stamped by the earlier goal in El Clasico history: a Karim Benzema goal 23 seconds into a match.
The Men in White pressed for the first third of the match, until Marcelo deflected Xavi’s attempt to turn it 1-1 before the halftime. Interestingly enough, we’ve got a couple of monkey wrenches on Real Madrid’s starting XI: Lassana Diarra starting and Fabio Coentrao playing right back.
Credit Barcelona for making tactical changes, which Real Madrid were not quite able to adapt to. Cesc Fabregas dropped back from being the front line of attack, while Alexis (who now holds the Drama Queen title in this Barcelona squad) is not just attacking from the left, but making runs on both sides. Sergio Busquets dropped to the back four, while Dani Alves (barf) is given a more attacking role. And where did that leave Messi? Let’s just say nobody wearing white was able to contain him to tonight—I miss Ricardo Carvalho.
Sure, Karim Benzema scored the opening goal, but there was little impact from the rest of Real Madrid’s attackers. Di Maria obviously was working hard, but could not finish, Ozil—well, I thought he eventually faded, and as for Cristiano, he was invisible tonight. There was hardly an attack on the left wing in the first half—and his second half performance is pretty much reminiscent to what I feel and see when Phil Younghusband is playing for the Philippine National Team. Frustrating all around.
Even more frustrating? Real Madrid’s defense. Of the back four, I’d rate Fabio Coentrao’s performance the highest, despite being played out-of-position. Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, and Pepe—que pasa??? Kaka came on for Ozil (and had a good few touches), Sami Khedira came on for Lass, and Pipita came on for Di Maria (still think he should have come on for Cristiano instead). Uninspiring substitutions—and I feel especially bad for Pipita, who should have a happier birthday. Barcelona had two unanswered goals in the second half, making the final scoreline 3-1.
That said, there should be a long post-mortem between Mourinho and his cold-blooded enforcers. On the bright side, the outcome of this match doesn’t decide La Liga. As for me, all I want is togive Xabi Alonso a tight hug after the match—he looked so defeated. And Iker—oh boy, oh boy, I wouldn’t want to face his wrath.
But wait, Kaka was a bit of an inspiration tonight:
En los buenas y malas, Hala Madrid!
ETA: You all know that Don Andres Iniesta is quite the legend, right? Well, here’s one more feather to add to his cap. (Sure gives Beckham a run for his money over the Golden Balls title. Haha.)
Or Iker Casillas:
So yes, one of the greatest clubs in the world decides to stamp its greatness once again by sharing photos of players in various states of consciousness, which would excite the female population of el madridisimo. Yes, it is useful to know that Sergio sleeps on the right side of the bed, while Iker is the king-of-the-bed type, sleeping right smack at the middle. Now these beds should have enough space for everyone.
That said, Real Madrid’s game versus Osasuna will be on a
t 6 a.m. my time tomorrow—absolutely fantastic then, having football first thing in the morning, and thank god for the long weekend. It’s actually on at 7 p.m., Sunday. An even more fantastic time! Gracias La Liga gods!
On the other hand, this totally allows me to shake off the frustration following last night’s Liverpool-Swansea match. Liverpool came out attacking in the first half, but somehow that momentum was not translated in the second half (and I’m inclined to think the officiating had a hand at it, as well). The closest we got to goal were a Dirk Kuyt shot that was ruled offside, and an Andy Carroll deflection that hit the crossbar. Swansea had a commendable game, but Liverpool were just too unlucky with all the shots that didn’t go in. Both goalkeepers, Pepe Reina and Michel Vorm, had fantastic games—Vorm, especially, was a fortress.
Fifth at the standings. Bouncing back versus Chelsea in two weeks’ time is imperative. Come on you Red Men!
Found this old video of Kaka and Dan Carter. Oh yes, the cuteness is exploding: