Spanish Rivals Ready to Spar

Spanish Rivals Ready to Spar

Jaime Heilbron

If you have any connection to Spain, particularly the cities of Madrid and Bar­celona, or are just simply an avid football fan like I am, you are in for a treat in the coming weeks. The two most powerful clubs in the history of Spanish football will meet four times in the shortest span in his­tory. Yes, you heard it right. In a span of 17 days, Real Madrid C.F. and F.C. Barcelona will go head-to-head four different times.

The first game will take place this Sat­urday, and it is probably the least impor­tant match. It will be played in Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, home to Real Madrid. The match is s is part of the fix­ture for La Liga. It is the least important one because, barring a total collapse, Barça has all but won the league. The “culés” hold an eight-point lead over Real Madrid with only eight contests remaining. Also, Barcelona has only lost one game all year, so it is losing too much footing to the Ma­drid side is an unlikely scenario. Saturday will be the second time the two squads will have played this year as the first matchup was back in November at Barcelona’s Camp Nou. The game resulted in a 5-0 white­washing of Real by Barcelona, and it is one that Madrid supporters will not forget for a long time, unless they have a measure of success in the coming weeks.

The second game will be just four days later when the two squads, who have exert­ed their domination in Spain this year, face off in the final of Spain’s “Copa del Rey”. The cup is the country’s second most pres­tigious one after the league championship and it is only fitting that the two sides will meet in the deciding match after the cam­paign each has put together. Real Madrid, a 17-time victor, has not hoisted the tro­phy since 1993 and last reached the final in 2004. Barcelona leads all Spanish teams with 25 cup titles and last won it in 2009, a year in which they won everything pos­sible. Both teams hold the tournament in high regard, which means they will both be more than ready for it. The fact that their eternal rival is each team’s only remaining obstacle to adding one more title to their trophy case is simply an added incentive.

Finally, the last two times the two clubs will be seeing each other in this football-crazed month will be with Europe’s biggest prize hanging in the balance. On April 27 and May 3, Real Madrid and Barcelona will duel once again, this time for a spot in the UEFA Champions League Final, which will take place on May 28 at Wem­bley Stadium in London, England. Real Madrid is the all-time leader in Champi­ons League titles, having won nine in its history. The club hailing from the Span­ish capital, however, has not won the title since 2002, which is also the last time that they had advanced past the Round of 16 until this year. Barça, on the other hand, has not won nearly as many titles as Real, with only three to its name. Despite its overall history, Barcelona has been Spain’s best representative over the past five years, winning the European title twice, in 2005- 2006 and 2008-2009, and has advanced to its fourth straight semi-final.

The rivalry’s history is filled with con­troversies. The main one is the curious case of Alfredo Di Stéfano, an Argen­tine-born Spanish footballer. The story goes that early in his career, Di Stéfano obtained the interest from both Span­ish clubs while playing in Colombia. A mess resulted from his transfer to a low-tier team in Argentina and both Barce­lona and Real Madrid claimed to own his registration.

FIFA was brought in to deal with the matter and decreed that Di Stéfano would play for both teams, but on alternate sea­sons. In the end, after a few appearances with Barça, he signed fully with Real. While the Madrid side claims it was vol­untary on his part, Barcelona to this day remains adamant that General Francisco Franco cowered Barcelona’s owners into releasing him of his contract.

Rivalries are always difficult to predict, especially when the teams are as histori­cally important as F.C. Barcelona and Real Madrid C.F. Over the past several years, Barcelona has completely and utterly dom­inated Real, to the point of humiliation. The “azulgranas” are en route to capturing their third straight league championship and have beat their archrivals in the last five matches by a combined score of 16- 2, with Real’s two goals coming in a 6-2 drubbing at the hands of Barça on May 2, 2009 in Madrid.

It is hard for a team to beat its rival nine consecutive times, as rivalry games bring an added flavor to the sport. It is especially difficult when four of those games are to occur within such a short span of time. Barcelona has made Madrid its punching bag throughout the past five contests, so one would think that Real is due to obtain some measure of success.

Therefore, it is not out of the question to think that the two teams could split the month, with each taking two of the ver­sions of “El Clásico”. It also should not surprise anyone, however, if F.C. Barce­lona continues its domination and beats Real Madrid in all four games. No mat­ter the result, however, these are exciting days to be a football fan, as the show that both teams will put on in the next few weeks will undoubtedly be unmatched by anything else in the game.