In a shot-in-the-arm tune-up for Wednesday’s clash with eternal rival FC Barcelona in the semifinals of the Copa del Rey (Spanish Cup) Cristiano Ronaldo scored three goals in Real Madrid‘s 4-0 trashing of Getafe in the 21st round of Spanish La Liga at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday. But the Portuguese superstar fell one goal behind in the standings for the Pichichi Trophy awarded by Madrid newspaper Marca to the top scorer after each season.
On Sunday Lionel Messi, FC Barcelona‘s
marvel from Argentina, scored four goals in Barça’s 5-1 demolition of
Osasuna at Camp Nou, to increase his league total for the season to 33
goals, an average of 1.57 goals per game. Messi is way ahead of last
year’s pace, when he finished with 50 goals, an all-time high for La
Liga. He has become the first player ever to score in 11 straight league
games and the youngest ever to reach 200 (202) goals.
It’s been this kind of a career for Ronaldo, a magnificent athlete,
who has the misfortune of being contemporary with the one player more
and more people consider the greatest in the history of the game. Messi
has won the last four FIFA Ballon d’Or trophies awarded each year to the
world’s best player. Ronaldo won the award in 2008 and finished second
four times, including the last two. If there’s no Messi, Ronaldo has
five Ballons d’Or. No other player has won more than three.
The individual competition between Ronaldo and Messi, which truly
exists only for Real Madrid and CR7 fans, as Messi is clearly from
another Galaxy (forget the Galacticos…) ads another dimension to the
Real Madrid – FC Barcelona rivalry. Not that this game needs any props.
Real vs. Barça is the biggest match-up in club soccer, watched by
hundreds of millions around the globe. It’s called El Clasico, but it’s
much more than that. This sports rivalry is socially and politically
charged like no other and is rooted directly in the country’s history of
the last 80 years or so.
Barcelona’s motto, Mes que un club (More
than a club) is a symbol and catalyst of Catalonian pride and spirit of
democracy and independence, which are as strong today as they were
during General Francisco Franco’s rise to power in the 1930s until his
death in 1975. While the motto came later, Barça was a symbol of
resistance to Castilian domination and Franco’s fascist regime
subjugation of Catalaninstitutions and interdiction of Catalan language. Barcelona’s martyr president Josep Sunyol was shot by the Falangist troops in 1936 while he was visiting Republican troops near Madrid during the Civil War.
The social and political aspect of the rivalry between madridistas and culés is
certainly more important to the fans than to the players. Messi and
Ronaldo are foreigners, and Spanish players from the two teams are
called up to play together for the Spanish national team. They have done
it admirably, winning the last two European Championships (2008 and
2012), with a World Cup title sandwiched in between in 2010. But when
they wear their clubs’ jerseys, the rivalry on the pitch is always
fierce and the show is always high quality.
For a rivalry to endure the two teams must be evenly matched, and
none is tighter than this one. In 111 years Real Madrid and FC Barcelona
have played 221 games in league, Cup and other official competitions.
Real has won 88 times, Barça 86, with 47 draws, including a 2-2 in the
last encounter in a league game on October 7 last year at the Camp Nou.
Messi and Ronaldo scored all goals.
Wednesday’s game and the return on February 27 at the Camp Nou are
more important for CR7 than they are for LM10. Barça is 15 points ahead
in La Liga after the best half of the season in history and has
everybody healthy. Madrid is marred by internal conflict between players
and coach Jose Mourinho and will miss important players (Casillas,
Pepe, Ramos, Di Maria, Coentrao). Advantage Messi. Again?