Sunday, 19 October 2008

Dramatic Derby

Gonzalo Higuaín snatched all three points for Real Madrid with a goal from the penalty spot deep into injury time and extended his side's unbeaten run at the Vicente Calderon stadium to nine years. However, the true "star" of the show was, for all the wrong reasons, referee Carlos Clos Gómez. Two disallowed goals, two extremely rigorous sendings-off and one instance of not applying the advantage rule when it could have resulted in a goal mean that he is receiving significantly more column inches than any of the other 22 men on the pitch.

The stadium, with a three-match ban from UEFA hanging over it for the incidents at the recent Champions League clash with Olympique Marseille, thankfully did not become a protagonist on the night. The fact that there were only a few hundred "visiting" fans (clearly a result of ticket allocation rules rather than the "inconvenience" of staying on the Madrid Metro for a few more stops) meant the large police contingent had little to deal with. Less impressive however, was the unfurling of a 10 metre-long banner just before half-time paying homage to recently deceased extreme right-wing Austrian politician Jörg Haider.

It took a mere 34 seconds for Ruud van Nistelrooy to get on the scoresheet, with a cheeky shot from outside the area that found the corner of the goal and surprised Atlético keeper Leo Franco. Twenty minutes later the Dutchman wasn't so lucky as the referee disallowed his goal for a dubious offside decision. Raúl then had another goal disallowed for offside, this time more debatable, but certainly a close call.

Real could have finished the half three goals up as Atlético's midfield fought with Gago and De la Red and lost. Instead, both sides went to the dressing room a man down. Perea slapped Sneijder and got his marching orders on the half hour. For Real Madrid, Van Nistelrooy was on the receiving end of an extremely harsh decision just eight minutes later. Frankly, it had the whiff of "compensation" from the referee.

Javier Aguirre, the local coach, brought on Simao after the break, making a huge difference to his side and forcing Real to give up significant ground. Sergio Ramos, who had had a fairly easy time of it in the first half, struggled to contain Atlético's attacks on his wing in the second. It was Simao himself who would send the local fans into a delirium of happiness as he flighted a free kick over the wall to beat a static Casillas, levelling the match with under a minute left of normal time.

However, there was still more drama to be played out. The referee had to stop the match in the second half for an injury he himself had picked up, and consequently had to add on plenty of stoppage time. Then, on the 96th minute, Drenthe was clearly tripped inside the area by Heitinga and Higuaín put away the resulting spot kick to extend Atlético's derby curse for yet another year.

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