El Clásico: Ronaldo & Messi Is History's Greatest Sporting Rivalry

Last night's El Clásico was only ever going to be about two men. And they didn't disappoint. Has there ever been a better example of two sporting greats going head-to-head on the grandest stage?
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Last night's El Clásico was only ever going to be about two men. And they didn't disappoint. Has there ever been a better example of two sporting greats going head-to-head on the grandest stage?

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Real Madrid Vs Barcelona: Ronaldo Vs Messi Is The Greatest Rivalry In The History Of Sport

Let’s start off by applauding one unlikely achievement; nobody was sent off. Whether somebody deserved to be sent off is an entirely different question. As always the Clásico was billed as the greatest match on earth, certainly one of the most watched (around 400,000,000 spectators tuned in, if media reports are to be believed). It couldn’t possibly live up to its lofty premise, could it?

As a neutral viewer one first and foremost expects goals, spectacular ones, and that little bit of extravaganza only the best of players can deliver. Well, I’m inclined to say viewers were not disappointed, even if it’s one of the stranger Clásico’s I’ve watched.

Heading into the El Clásico FC Barcelona were in an enviable starting position, win or lose, the Catalans would still hold at least a five-point advantage over their hated heated rivals, Real Madrid. By anyone’s standard that’s a good enough cushion, in October, no less. But with all the attention almost exclusively focused on the duopoly of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid could’ve surged past the Blaugrana. It didn’t happen though. But it’s makes for a nice sub-plot. At present Los Rojiblancos can claim to be European Champions (Euro League winners 2011/2012) and higher ranking in La Liga than the Galacticos 2.0 project. Life’s good being an Atletico fan these days.

Last season’s best attack against an untested ‘centre-back’ pairing - the thought itself was not very inviting, but a brutal reality for FC Barcelona nonetheless.

Nevertheless, the point advantage was about the only positive aspect for Cúles pre-match. At present FC Barcelona’s central defence is anything but a rock solid foundation. Frankly, no one would’ve been surprised had FC Barcelona lost the match. Last season’s best attack against an untested ‘centre-back’ pairing - the thought itself was not very inviting, but a brutal reality for FC Barcelona nonetheless.

So far into his tenure Tito Vilanova hasn’t made any grave errors, his team is leading in La Liga and their Champions League group. But that hasn’t stopped him from making bizarre decisions (a couple of them). One of his more bizarre judgment calls – not buying a centre-back but a defensive midfielder. Unfortunately that’s not where the inexplicable stops. FC Barcelona’s new manager purchased Alex Song (the defensive midfielder in question) with the intention of converting him to a centre-back.

Still with me?

His decision, or rather weirdo experiment, has caught up with him. Right before the Clásico Tito Vilanova was shorn of his centre-backs, both, Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol, leaving him without any natural centre-backs, or ones he trusts. La Masia youngsters Marc Bartra and Andreu Fontas belong to the latter category.

Apparently Tito Vilanova has come to the same conclusion as myself watching Alex Song and Javier Mascherano in central-defence – they’re horrible. Look no further than the Sevilla tie.

Whether there’s indeed any animosity between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, nobody knows. The only thing that can be confirmed is – they push one another to their limits

Something’s got to give, right?

Wrong.

Pep Guardiola’s former assistant manager managed to outdo his previous acts of weirdness; he installed full-back, Adriano, at centre-back. At this point in time it’s anyone’s guess what Tito Vilanova will do next.

Though no one cares to admit, in some quarters Barcelona fans braced themselves for defeat. In short, anything but a drubbing was acceptable. Truth be told, even before Cristiano Ronaldo gave Real Madrid the lead (and making him the first player in history to score in six successive Clásicos) in the 23rd minute, Los Blancos were the far better side for the opening half an hour or so. If it wasn’t for wasteful finishing by Karim Benzema and company, Real Madrid could’ve at least scored three. Such was their superiority over the Catalans. But FC Barcelona have something of a real-life get-out-of-jail card in their locker (room), Argentine maestro, Lionel Messi. If recent Clásico history has proven anything, Cristiano Ronaldo scoring against his team doesn’t sit too well with Messi. He gets even and then some. Not once but twice he scored. His first leveled the match in the first half, while the second, a delightfully taken free-kick, put FC Barcelona ahead after the break. Whether there’s indeed any animosity between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, nobody knows. The only thing that can be confirmed is – they push one another to their limits. Hence, it was almost inevitable that Cristiano Ronaldo also scored his second for the night.

I’m willing to go out on a limb here and call this perhaps the greatest rivalry in the history of the sport. It’s a privilege to witness these two modern greats, and watching them slug it out in a Clásico is about as good as it gets. Furthermore, their individual styles give a good account of their respective teams. Ronaldo is the archetype of the modern footballer, powerful and direct while Lionel Messi has a more nimble approach to the beautiful game. He places the emphasis on skill and technique (not to suggest that Ronaldo is not). It’s these subplots that make the Clásico so interesting.

Ronaldo is the archetype of the modern footballer, powerful and direct while Lionel Messi has a more nimble approach to the beautiful game

After Cristiano Ronaldo restored parity the match was much more evenly contested, considering their respective modus operandi, they played to their strengths. To be honest, I’m inclined to say that FC Barcelona were lucky to escape with a draw. While they did create a few sitters as the game unfolded, Real Madrid could’ve, and quite frankly, should’ve, buried the Blaugrana in the first half. So on this night in Catalunya, Culés will be the ones smiling their way back home. Never has a draw felt so right.

As predicted the post-match interviews offered lots of ‘quoteables’ on both sides. Some of them below:

Jose Mourinho: “I liked the referee; he just made one mistake at a certain moment.” “Real Madrid is a gentleman’s club, so I can’t cry about a non-given penalty.”

Pepe: "The foul on Ozil is far from where I am, but it's penalty. My penalty foul on Iniesta? I didn't touch him, it was play-acting."

Tito Vilanova: “Mourinho complaining? For someone who says he won’t talk about referees… If you talk, you should talk about all actions.” “Pepe saying Iniesta acted? Maybe we can make a video of all his fouls and actions…”

Adriano: "Madrid complaining about referee? It was penalty on Andres, and foul on Andres before their second goal. Nothing more to say."

(Quotes: courtesy of BarcaStuff www.twitter.com/#!/barcastuff)

From the strange decisions of Tito Vilanova, the on-field rivalry of Lionel Messi & Cristiano Ronaldo, to the post-match quoteables of Jose Mourinho, last night’s clash of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid once again confirmed that El Clásico is indeed the greatest match in the world.

Follow me on Twitter @JubeiKibagame

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