Cla­sico takes spe­cial mean­ing

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

LON­DON — With due re­spect to the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship play-off matches this week, Satur­day’s El Cla­sico in Madrid will be the first truly global sport­ing event to be staged since the hor­rific mur­ders in Paris on Fri­day night last week.

In­escapably, the first im­por­tant vic­tory which can be won at the Bern­abeu is that sport can ac­tu­ally help re­store some so­ci­etal val­ues and show that we will not be cowed by the cow­ards, the despots and the de­luded; that ev­ery­one can go to one of the world’s great foot­balling oc­ca­sions and re­turn from the match safely.

By the kick-off it will have been just over a week since the atroc­i­ties in the French cap­i­tal, mil­lions of words and many more mil­lions of doubts and fears will have re­sulted from a bar­baric act of war against in­no­cent civil­ians.

Paris, for many of the 85000 fans who will be in the Bern­abeu, is a deeply sig­nif­i­cant place — as is the Stade de France.

In other cir­cum­stances, Real Madrid pair Toni Kroos and Karim Ben­zema, along with Barcelona’s Jeremy Mathieu, would have been play­ing in the France-ger­many friendly on Fri­day when those ter­ror­ist atroc­i­ties oc­curred.

Zine­dine Zi­dane, now coach of Madrid Castilla (Real’s re­serve team), won the World Cup for Les Bleus on that very turf along­side Di­dier Deschamps, his friend who was in charge of the French team play­ing Ger­many.

In foot­ball terms, it was also al­ready a hal­lowed spot for An­dres Ini­esta, who won his first Cham­pi­ons League Fi­nal there in 2006.

All of their minds will be drawn to Paris — from the in­stant they un­der­stood what hap­pened there right up un­til com­pet­i­tive in­stincts kick in on Satur­day evening.

As for Rafa Varane — he played the full 90 min­utes while, as it tran­spired, bombs were fa­tally det­o­nat­ing around the out­side of the arena. How he will feel now or in the fu­ture ... heaven only knows.

It is to be hoped that El Cla­sico, of­ten a mean-spir­ited, vin­dic­tive oc­ca­sion, in­spires ev­ery­one there to unite.

To make a state­ment which hon­ours the dead and shows hu­man­ity, de­fi­ance and dig­nity in be­wil­der­ing cir­cum­stances.

The game can only be a tiny part on the patch­work of re­ac­tions which send out a mes­sage that ‘we are not afraid’ but per­haps it’s not an in­signif­i­cant oc­ca­sion.

How­ever, once the re­mem­brance for those who were killed has passed, once the se­cu­rity ser­vices have done their job to the best of their abil­ity an in­trigu­ing match re­mains.

In foot­ball terms at least, you can ex­pect the re­main­der of this week to be very heav­ily fo­cused on ar­guably the world’s great­est player, Lional Messi — al­though Cris­tiano Ron­aldo would dis­agree of that de­scrip­tion.

Messi wasn’t in Buenos Aires’ rain-soaked Es­ta­dio Mon­u­men­tal on Fri­day night into Satur­day morn­ing as Ney­mar, Dani Alves and Javier Mascher­ano slugged it out in the South Amer­i­can Cla­sico of Ar­gentina ver­sus Brazil, which ended 1-1.

That is be­cause the knee-lig­a­ment in­jury Barca’s star suf­fered at the end of Septem­ber was much too se­ri­ous for Messi — to his vast dis­ap­point­ment — to even con­tem­plate help­ing Ar­gentina’s hor­ri­bly fal­ter­ing at­tempt to qual­ify for the next World Cup.

In fact, there should not re­ally have been a chance of Barcelona’s all-time lead­ing scorer — and the lead­ing scorer in the his­tory of El Cla­sico — be­ing fit in time for Satur­day night.

As­ton­ish­ingly, though, there is now a slight chance he will take some part in the game. Like the chink of light at the end of a dark tun­nel which can lead to sal­va­tion, it is sud­denly there.

Messi, ru­mour has it, has been up­grad­ing his train­ing work be­yond sim­ply run­ning and get­ting touches on the ball to start­ing to par­tic­i­pate in five-a-side train­ing games dur­ing the in­ter­na­tional break.

Un­til his re­ac­tion to full-con­tact train­ing is as­sessed, it’s sim­ply guess­work on be­half of the Cata­lan me­dia, who have be­gun to state that Messi will be good for half an hour against Madrid.

For Luis En­rique, fac­ing his se­cond El Cla­sico at the Bern­abeu as a for­mer Madrid, exBarcelona player and the cur­rent Nou Camp man­ager, the com­pli­ca­tions of how to han­dle the Messi sit­u­a­tion are al­most equally matched by those fac­ing him over the play­ers who ac­tu­ally played in the Ar­genti­naBrazil clash in Buenos Aires.

Tor­ren­tial rain on Thurs­day forced the game to be played a day late, so his play­ers per­formed on a strength-sap­ping pitch and had 24 hours less re­cov­ery time be­fore their mid­week in­ter­na­tional tests against Peru and Colom­bia. Th­ese fac­tors count.

What with the jet­lag of a transat­lantic flight and the phys­i­o­log­i­cal tired­ness of high pres­sure in­ter­na­tional matches on the other side of the planet, it is fair to say Mascher­ano, Ney­mar and Alves — guar­an­teed starters in nor­mal cir­cum­stances — face a huge chal­lenge to cope with the men­tal and phys­i­cal in­ten­sity of a match against their bit­ter ri­vals from Madrid. Such is life at the top. For Rafa Ben­itez, booed by Real Madrid fans re­cently and openly crit­i­cised by some of his play­ers — most no­tably Colom­bian star James Ro­driguez — and three points be­hind the reign­ing cham­pi­ons, there are a range of chal­lenges, too.

Ben­zema’s be­hav­iour in the case of for­mer French in­ter­na­tional team-mate Mathieu Val­buena be­ing black­mailed is un­der crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion and has been the sub­ject of un­remit­ting me­dia cov­er­age in France and Spain since the story broke.

In foot­balling terms, Ben­zema’s im­por­tance to Real’s chances of vic­tory against Barcelona is an ab­so­lute no-brainer.

Not only does Ron­aldo play with vastly more dan­ger and ef­fi­cacy when paired with the French striker, Ben­zema’s per­for­mances have pro­duced a tor­rent of goals and as­sists in games against Barcelona.

How­ever, with those ex­tremely se­ri­ous crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings go­ing on around him, is he in fit shape to per­form in the way he would be needed to? A dif­fi­cult and sen­si­tive call for an un­der-pres­sure man­ager to make.

Even if tre­ble-hold­ers Barca win at the Bern­abeu — some­thing they have done reg­u­larly over the last six years — a six-point lead would not be defini­tive at this stage of the sea­son. Handy all the same, though.

— Dai­ly­mail.

Barcelona striker Luis Suarez Madrid At­tack­ing mid­fielder JAMES Ro­driguez

Barcelona At­tacker Ney­mar real MADRID winger Gareth BALE

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