Monday, October 23, 2006

el clasico, 2006 edicion: or, the evil Earps at the OK corral

Was it really just Wednesday when 2/3 of a pretty move met with Zach from 11 Devils and got the life-force sucked out of us watching a weirdly vacant Barca well and truly pummelled by the overpaid boys in blue? (See Zach's inimitable description here. Not only does he write with vigor and style, he even secretly paid for the french fries. Thanks, man.) It didn't bode well for this year's battle in the ongoing war between Real Madrid and Barca, AKA the Fascists v the Catalans. Last year's showdown was a sparkling triumph for Ronaldinho and the boys, in which they garnered a round of applause from hardened Real fans at the Bernabeu just for playing so damn well.

This year falls into the realm of different gods entirely. Darker gods, the kind that hunker and lurk.

Two minutes into the action, Sergio Ramos (he works for the devil, but he may be my favorite of all the young Spaniards) sent a perfect ball forward and center to Raul who headed it past Valdes so smoothly that we collectively got the wind knocked out of us and nobody spoke for a full minute. Then Lynda muttered something about NOW is the moment Raul decides to make his long-delayed and much-despaired-of comeback? I said he's like the gunfighter who spends the whole movie drunk in the gutter then cleans up and busts into the saloon just in time for the final shoot-out.

In retrospect, it's an apt metaphor for the whole team. All season long, the word about Real has been nothing but negative. Bloated, ego-heavy, unmanagably expensive, the team has emitted the warning creaks and groans of a sinking ship all year. And yet, here we are, the smoke clearing in the saloon with the wrong cowboys still standing. Evil cowboys, yes, but today they do look shiny. Robinho's yellow boots owned the pitch from one end to the other. Raul exuded youth and vitality the whole 90 minutes, as did Reyes when he came in during the second half. Ruud and Guti indulged in some bullying Schadenfreude and I wish I could say they played badly, but that would be disingenuous.

As for the Catalans, Ronaldinho remained unmanned (or, as Zach aptly put it, "decoded"), as he had been against Chelsea. He delivered some lovely crosses and one splendid free kick but the finish was fumbled by Gudjohnsen. The mighty Viking was invisible at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday and worse today, missing every opportunity that came his way. Messi had some shining moments, setting up what ought to have been the equaliser more than once. Puyol did some brave defending but we all sorely missed Marquez.

The man of the match for me was announcer Ray Hudson, with his musings on "manly machismo" and "donkey work", and his whimsical metaphors, one in particular about "a snowball plunging out of a snowy sky." I swear he even referred to one of the Real players (for God's sake, WHO?) as "my little lollipop."

In then end it felt like the STAR TREK episode in which Kirk and the landing party found themselves cast in the roles of the Clanton gang and facing a dashingly evil and seemingly invincible line of Earps. Today, the Bad Earps won, but even I have to admit they looked rather magnificent doing it.

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