By Chris Wright
The first of April’s ‘El Clasico’ showdowns amounted to little more than a rather disappointing damp squib four days ago, with a penalty a-piece from the big two’s big two – Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – ensuring honours were just about even at the end of the evening.
However, with the embers of Saturday’s game still glowing in the hearth, the intense rivalries are set to be renewed once again tonight as Barcelona and Real Madrid go head-to-head in the final of 2011 Copa del Rey from within the steep, intimidating inclines of the creaking mausoleum that Valencia call home – the Mestalla.
After Shakhtar Donetsk really came through for me in the Champions League quarter-finals, I’ve decided to ramp up the jeopardy stakes by indulging in a spot of online betting with a flutter backing Real to do a number on a Barca – £10’s worth of ‘vested interest’ if you will.
Jose Mourinho may well have been reluctant to tell anyone about it but Madrid are, as ever, fully immersed in the belief that they can hold their own against the impatient, attack-centric zeal of Barcelona’s current stable – with Senhor Ronaldo, never one to shy away from a bit of self-aggrandising, taking on the physical embodiment of Los Blancos’ perpetually brimming confidence in an interview run by Elconfidencial.com earlier today.
The Portuguese winger’s successful penalty conversion at the weekend was his 40th goal of the season but his first career strike against Barcelona and, despite rescuing a point for his side, the result left Real eight points off Pep Guardiola’s charges at the sharp end of the La Liga pile – though Ronaldo believes the gulf would be far more substantial were it not for his Herculean efforts this term: “If it were not for me, [Real] would be at least 20 points behind Barcelona.”
He’s never one to shy away from a spot of self-aggrandising, is our Cristiano.
The really weighty Clasicos are undoubtedly yet to come, with the Champions League semi-final double-header pencilled in for early May, and there are suggestions that both Jose and Pep (who looks to have the league sewn up) may take the chance to rotate a few of their key men – though Barca’s bench is hardly dripping with prime replacements and Real will surely have one eye on ensuring their despised Catalan peers don’t end the domestic season with all the bragging rights in hock.
Barcelona 0-1 Real Madrid
Mourinho wins it ‘Mourinho style’, gets lambasted by Alfredo Di Stefano again, comes away with another trophy.