Jose Mourinho was nowhere to be seen on Tuesday at the Camp Nou in Barcelona, Spain, but his words from a week earlier resonated as the final whistle sounded.
With their coach serving what many likely saw as an unjust ban, Real Madrid played to a 1-1 draw with Barcelona in the second leg of the all-Spanish Champions League semifinal, a result that sent Barca through to the big dance for the second time in three years. Did they deserve to go through though?
Probably – there’s no question that the Leo Messi led team is one of the world’s most elite clubs, stocked to the brim with extreme talent. That said, I could hardly watch as they played their own brand of “negative football” to perfection and, to boot, once again benefited from a suspect call by the referee that changed the course of the action.
Normally when you hear the term “negative football,” it describes an overly defensive style of game that is criticized as being very boring to watch. In this case though I’m talking about a style of game that ruins the enjoyment of fans for a whole other set of reasons: let’s call it the “Help, I’ve been shot” formation! Never have I seen a team consistently dive and act and roll around on the ground as much as what I saw from Barca during the two legs of this Champions League semifinal. As immensely talented as they are, it seems like in both games they had to rely on the referee falling for their garbage in order to gain the upper hand!
Real’s Pepe wasn’t in the lineup on Tuesday because he was shown a straight red card the week before for a foul on Barca’s Dani Alves that replays revealed was a complete fabrication. Barcelona went on to score twice against a 10-man Real and win the leg. That led coach Jose Mourinho, who was sent to the stands for arguing the call, to say: “I just do not understand why Barcelona always receive the help of the referee,” among other things.
After having a player sent off in each of their first three meetings this season, Real finished Tuesday’s game with 11 men for once, but the clash didn’t end without another dash of controversy revolving around the man with the whistle!
Minutes into the second half, Real’s Gonzalo Higuain appeared to score a key away goal for his club, which would have given them plenty of time to get right back into the contest. I say that he “appeared to” score because referee Frank de Bleeckere bit on a Javier Mascherano dive just outside his own 18-yard box and awarded Barcelona a free kick instead of giving the goal.
Here’s what happened: Cristiano Ronaldo was clearly bumped by Gerard Pique as he ran up the middle with the ball. When he fell, his shoulder appeared to touch Mascherano’s heel and the Barca defender acted as if some Navy Seals had just raided his compound on a top secret mission. With the goal called back, Barcelona went up the field not long afterwards and opened the scoring!
Real got one back about 10 minutes later, but their fate was all but sealed by that Pedro tally in the 54th minute.
After the game Ronaldo said the ref made sure that a Real win on the night was “Mission Impossible 4” and that “there was nothing wrong with the [Higuain] goal.” He added, rightfully so, that it could have “altered the course of the match” had it stood.
Real’s Xabi Alonso and assistant coach Aitor Karanka both echoed that sentiment to the BBC in their post-game comments.
Karanka simply stated that “Mourinho was right” and that “100 million people saw it,” so there was really nothing more to say. Alonso said the team wasn’t happy with all of the “bad decisions” that went against them, also pointing out that a 0-0 tie in the first leg and a 1-1 draw on Tuesday would have sent Real through to the final.
Now, I should probably point out that I watched this game as a casual observer and not as an actual supporter of either side, so my opinion wasn’t swayed by a blind allegiance to one club or the other. In fact, before these last two games I was just really excited to watch Leo Messi do what he does best a couple of times and I thought of Real as the team that spent too much time trying to fool the refs with dives!
To me, it was a disappointing display from a team that shouldn’t have to resort to the types of over the top theatrics that we saw over and over again to win games – if I want simulation I’ll fire up FIFA 11! It actually made me mad to watch the constant stream of players clutching various body parts after next to no contact, with video replay confirming the farce moments after each “foul.”
All I can say is, if that’s what we’re supposed to expect from the best teams in the world, the sport is in trouble.
What do you think: Did all of that diving and flopping around make you lose any respect for Barcelona, or is it all just part of the game?