Monday, 17 September 2007

Sneijder shows his worth

It wasn't pretty, but it was a win. That's not a standard summary game review for last season, but a fair reflection of Saturday's outcome against Almería. The newly promoted side set out to prove that their 3-0 season opening win at Deportivo was no fluke and took the game to Real Madrid, who floundered for the first half hour or so.

Saviola, in for Van Nistelrooy who was presumably not 100% after his international duty for the Netherlands, had a goal disallowed for a clear offside before picking up a rebound off the post from a Raúl strike and neatly putting it away. In the second half, Schuster brought Drenthe in for Heinze and Higuaín in for Robinho, like-for-like substitutions which preserved the tactical line-up. Almería, however, were uncowed and rightly protested a disallowed goal soon after the restart, as Higuaín was clearly playing Uche onside.

In fact, Almería are to be congratulated for their fighting spirit, which should be rewarded with retaining their top division status at the end of the season. After Sneijder doubled Real's lead with a sublime free kick worthy of David Beckham (his fourth goal in three matches), Almería received a further blow when Crusat was sent off for bringing down Saviola as the last defender. Still they kept on coming, harassing the Real defence, making Casillas look shaky on the high balls, and finally getting their reward with a fabulous finish by Uche, after he got the better of Cannavaro. They even had a penalty appeal turned down (it looked like an accidental clash between Metzelder and Natalio, rather than a deliberate trip). This is the sort of stuff that will have Sport and El Mundo Deportivo claiming biased refereeing, while Marca and As will say it was just human error, the opposite of what either side said after Barcelona's last game. Naturally.

Higuaín made it safe a few minutes later, with Saviola in an offside position (was he or wasn't he interfering with play? You decide) and Real are now the only side with three wins out of three, although Sevilla are 2/2 with a game in hand and looking as good as last season.

The Champions League group stages kick off this week, with Real hosting Werder Bremen on Tuesday, and the fixture list is starting to look its usual congested self at this stage of the season.

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