Sunday, 4 May 2008

Epic Finish

Despite playing almost the whole of the second half with 10 men (and a few minutes with nine), Real Madrid managed to overturn a 1-0 deficit with less than 10 minutes to go and win their thirty-first league title. It's the first time they have won back-to-back titles since 1990 (though that was the last in a run of five consecutive champioships), when John Toshack was in charge. Robben, with a header from a free kick, and Gonzalo Higuaín (let's give my namesake his full name here) with a powerful volley, means they'll be partying in Cibeles until the early hours.

A few minutes earlier it had looked like Real would have to wait at least one more week to clinch the title, after Heinze had been judged to handle the ball in the area, and Puñal converted the resulting penalty. The handball was unarguable; the ball hit Heinze so hard that his hand started to bleed and he had to leave the pitch for a few minutes to seek treatment. Though Schuster had said in his press conference before the game that he'd like to win the Championship at home to Barcelona next week, his players still looked like they wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible.

The first half was edgy and tough ("muscular", some would say), with few chances and an extremely hostile crowd, but the game opened up after Cannavaro was sent off seconds after the restart for a misjudged tackle from behind, which forced Schuster to bring off Saviola, in his second start in as many games, and bring on Torres. Osasuna sensed they had a chance to win at home to Madrid for the first time in five years, and yet it was Real who had the better chances, with Sneijder hitting the bar from a looping deflected shot.

Puñal's converted penalty had some of the faithful leaving Cibeles, when Higuaín, having come in for Raúl, floated a perfect free kick right to the side of Robben's head which left the keeper no chance. It's Robben's first headed goal for Real and something of a rarity elsewhere. It's hard to say whether he looked more surprised than elated. But there was no time to waste. Real scooped up the ball from Osasuna's goal and piled on the pressure in the dying seconds. Diarra powered towards the Osasuna area but found his way blocked by one too many defenders; the loose ball found its way to Sergio Ramos, who threaded it through three Osasuna defenders to Higuaín. The Argentine chested the ball down, let it bounce once and connected with a powerful volley inside the near post and scored his third goal in as many games, though this one was worth the league. The game was all but over. A couple of minutes later the celebrations began and continued until the early hours when the players returned to the capital and the captain dressed the Cibeles fountain with the obligatory Real Madrid scarf.

Real will miss both Heinze and Cannavaro through suspension in the Clásico against Barcelona (who'll be missing Deco and Eto'o for the same reason) on Wednesday, but the game is likely to turn into one big celebratory party that the Catalans will try their best to spoil, as they fight Villareal for that elusive second place and automatic qualification for the league stages of next season's Champions League.

7 comments:

jpx said...

CAMPEONES!!!!

Just-Football said...

congrats to real, in all honesty they've had this league wrapped up since december really. not much of a challenge from barca at all.

www.just-football.com/2008/05/photo-shoot-552008-speedy-gonzalo-hands.html

good picture of higuain here for anyone interested.

realmadrid200708 said...

Campeones!! Hala Madrid!

Merengue said...

After a record setting first half of the season, Madrid had a poor February and the first two weeks of March but since then they've lifted their game and are ending the season well, just as they did last year. Look at the leagues in Germany, Italy, France and even England where the league leaders are stumbling to the finish, not in Spain.

Higuain has become a great weapon off the bench, adding speed and energy to the attack. The other interesting feature of Real Madrid's late season run is that each week there is a different player stepping up and putting in a game winning performance.

And let's have some praise for Iker Casillas. Every year he's worth about 10 points a season to his club. With Buffon's form slipping this season, Casillas is now the world's best goalkeeper.

iCampeones, campeones, oeee,oee,oe!

Gonzalo said...

Let's hope they can all get over their hangovers by Wednesday night. They need to make Barcelona work for that automatic CL spot, not just have a party!

john said...

Oh, man am I looking forward to that game! A shame that Eto'o and Deco won't be there to applaud us.

And Merengue - if you look at the 'player of the month' polls on the homepage, you'll notice how varied it's been, distributed from one player to the next. I think that's a fair reflection, and a good sign that the squad doesn't depend on any one player. Though there are certainly some we need more than others, and this season the award hangs sqaurely on San Iker's shoulders.

Gonzalo said...

John,

On the 'player of the month' rankings, I've been keeping score over the season to come up with some sort of MVP when the season's over. It's really quite close at the top (you can work it out yourself, I don't want to give too much away!), so the votes for this month may turn out to be crucial.