Cristiano Ronaldo, giving a military salute as his new goal scoring celebration, scored a hat trick to lead Spanish Football’s Real Madrid in its dismantling of Sevilla 7-3 at the Bernabeu tonight (http://bit.ly/17ybYWu).
Ronaldo was responding to FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s unfortunate mocking of the Portuguese superstar as “too much like a military commander on the field” when asked to provide his handicapping of this year’s Ballon d’Or nominees. Blatter’s comments included a mock toy-soldier-like march by the FIFA President during a filmed interview in London. Blatter indicated he favored Lionel Messi for the prize.
Ronaldo’s classy Twitter response, “I hope he [Blatter] lives a long time so he can enjoy watching the type of players he enjoys,” was about as pithy, eloquent, and classy a rejoinder as we are ever likely to hear.
But this sideshow was just that in what turned out to be a microcosm of our sport, and the La Liga trends, played out in a single game. Ten goals scored, and some were spectacular such as Ivan Rakitic’s left footed curl from just outside Madrid’s left side of the box, while others were pinball-ish such as Gareth Bale’s bounce-off-the-wall-and-redirect free kick goal.
We had penalties galore–some called, some not. The penalty on Real’s Isco, which led to Ronaldo’s first goal,was a foul outside the box, not a penalty. The foul by Ronaldo that led to Rakitic’s missed penalty was not a foul, and the contact occurred outside the box and only concluded inside it. Ronaldo went for and succeeded at tackling and recuperating the ball. The no call on Bale was a penalty, not for the trip by the defender at his side, but for the push from the one behind him, which made Bale’s attempted jump over the first defender’s stretched leg, a leg that did not make contact with Bale’s, an impossibility for Bale was off balance when pushed. That was a penalty, the officials simply missed the added infraction.
Half-way through the second half and with the result if not the score line no longer an issue, Real coach Carlo Ancelotti found it necessary to make substitutions that allowed Luka Modric, Angel di Maria and the now recovered Xabi Alonso to join the fray. Why? None was needed and only Alonso actually had a reason for playing–to get some pitch time after such a long hiatus. Modric and di Maria added little to the Real effort, Xabi, the true one-time field commander of this team walked into his role immediately. He told Isco where to play (more advanced to take full advantage of his offensive creativity), he passed balls to Ronaldo and Marcelo that only last ditch defensive slides stopped from becoming assists, and he joined Ramos as the strongest defensive duo of Real’s second half.
The bottom line is that with a team so overloaded with talent each has to be given his due if the locker room is to remain at an even keel, thus the unnecessary game time for Modric and di Maria from a strategic football point of view but necessary from a political point of view.
Ancelotti started with another line-up, different from the one he used for the Clasico and from the game before that. Under most circumstances this was not a great decision, but it worked. The only reason this line up worked when the previous one did not was not that opposition was a lesser obstacle, because today Sevilla was up to the task and with a little more luck could have had a different result. The line-up worked because every so often the Real President Florentino Perez’s Galactico strategy has to come a winner or it negates its continuance. Bale, Ronaldo and Benzema were on tonight and each striker tallied multiple times if not on spectacular efforts. Needless to say these on moments are a periodic thing and not what you can count on for a seasonal success story.
To add another touch of topicality, as if one were needed tonight, the Madrid crowd was chanting “Costa’s not a Spaniard,” in reference to Diego Costa’s choice to play for the Spanish National Football team rather than those now villainous Confederation Cup 2013 Champions.
To continue with our trends, the larger number of offensive stars as opposed to defensive ones in La Liga was again on display as a ten-goal night is rare in most leagues but less so in Spain. Finally, we had a touch of what La Liga, world football’s most creative league (yes even after the departures of Kaka, Ozil and Soldado), can do to players who roam their pitches.
Rakitic, the left footed Croat maestro and Modric teammate on their national team, scored an unstoppable left-footed penalty and beautiful left-footed curling placement goal from outside the box. But, he had to go on the creative I-can-do-one-better wagon, not to be outdone at the Bernabeu by the Galacticos. So of course, given a hat-trick possibility and a chance to cut Real’s lead and momentum, he takes a right-footed penalty and skies the ball into the upper decks. The perfect touch to crown an unforgettable night of the greatest and only global sport on earth.