In my opinion this is the best time of the year for sports because we just had the Masters and the NCAA basketball tournament and baseball has finally started. The NBA and NHL are heading into 2 months of playoffs, the European soccer leagues are coming down to crunch time and the Champions League is reduced to 4 teams. Two of those teams are the two most compelling rivals in the sports world in my opinion…well maybe after the Yankees and Red Sox! Assuming Real Madrid holds on against a feisty Tottenham squad later today, they will join arch rivals Barcelona in the semi-finals of the Champions League where they will square off twice. Additionally, they play a critical La Liga match Saturday and the final of the Copa Del Rey all within 18 days. That means we get 4 “El Clasicos”, perhaps the best rivalry in global sports.
Aside from the underlying political and nationalistic theme, the reason it is so compelling this year and in recent years is because Barcelona has been the most dominant team in Europe and in fact the world over the past 5 years. This includes 2 Champions league titles in 2006 and 2009 and several other trophies as well including the last few La Liga titles. Real Madrid has won the most European Cups in history with 9 but many of them were several decades ago and they have struggled to keep up with their Catalan rivals albeit spending the most money of any club in the world. They make the Yankees look cheap!
The rivalry also boasts two best players in the world. Real Madrid has Cristiano Ronaldo who is easily the most dislikable player in Europe; he is kind of the Alex Rodriguez of Europe although his talent is indisputable. He scores goals at an alarming rate and since his move from Manchester United 2 years ago he hasn’t let up. His obvious drawback is he appears to be very selfish and also has a tendency to flop and whine a lot, not to mention the ridiculous amounts of hair gel he wears in his “fro-hawk”. Needless to say, I do not like him.
Then there is the incomparable Lionel Messi who is the best player I have ever seen and just yesterday became the Barcelona all time single season scoring leader with plenty of games left to go. He is the two time defending FIFA world player of the year and will most likely earn an unprecedented third straight this year as Barcelona is poised to win the treble of La Liga, Copa Del Rey and Champions League; which would be the second time in 3 years.
Messi is generally considered the antithesis of Ronaldo as he is also the league’s leader in assists and seems the consummate team player, although he loves to score and has an uncanny nose for the net. Messi, along with Xavi, Iniesta and David Villa are an extremely formidable match up for any team. Real Madrid counters with a star studded team of highly paid players that has never won anything so they are certainly the underdogs.
4 times in less than 3 weeks in mouth watering and I cannot wait until they start Saturday. Hopefully Barcelona wins all four but certainly the Copa title game and the Champions league matches. They can certainly afford to lose the league game but you know they don’t want to as they won the last one 5-0. They come in with an 8 point lead with only a few games left.
It should be exciting and I implore you; if you’re not a soccer fan, go to a local bar that shows European soccer games and check it out, you’ll be hooked and if nothing else, you’ll see the world’s best in action. If you happen to miss one, don’t sweat it, you’ll have 4 chances!