Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Real Madrid - Barcelona

Real Madrid and Barcelona meet once again one week after the last showdown. No title is in play this time round, but a prize just as important is: a berth in the grand finale at Wembley. After such a superb turnout by fans for the last Clasico in league play and later at the South end of Mestalla for the Cup final, they will have to go the extra mile on Wednesday. As Sergio Ramos already mentioned, they have to "score the first goal of the match." Real Madrid have yet to concede a goal at home in this year’s edition of the competition, a streak they know is crucial to keep intact heading into the second leg. The Santiago Bernabeu feels important. More than 80,000 voices will make it possible.

Santiago Bernabeu Stadium hosts its first Champions League semifinal in eight years on Wednesday. With morale through the roof after winning last week’s Copa del Rey against this same Barcelona team, Real Madrid expect nothing less than a close battle similar to those seen earlier this month. Home field advantage played a vital role against Lyon and Tottenham and the Whites hope to capitalize on it again in the first leg of the Clasico.
"We will play our hearts out," affirmed Vice-captain Sergio Ramos on Monday; a clear display of the emotions the squad is feeling ahead of the match. Khedira is unavailable due to injury and Carvalho must serve a one-match ban, but as seen against Valencia on Saturday, the bench has little trouble filling in. Albiol, Di Maria, Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo are all sitting on yellow cards, so a booking by referee Wolfgang Stark will see them watching from the stands in next week’s second leg.

Jose Mourinho has not lost an elimination match over the last two years. Since joining forces with Inter and losing the Italian Super Cup semifinals against Sampdoria in 2009, he has gone on to eliminate the last 12 teams: Livorno, Juventus, Fiorentina, Chelsea, CSKA Moskva, Barcelona, Lyon, Tottenham, Murcia, Levante, Atletico and Sevilla . Mourinho hopes to extend the run with a magical performance against Barcelona on Wednesday at the Bernabeu.

With Adriano and Maxwell injured, Guardiola is forced to start a back line not yet seen before this season. Barça do however recover the services of Puyol and Milito, the latter of whom was nicked up over the weekend against Osasuna.

Real Madrid and Barcelona have twice already met in the semifinals of Europe’s top competition, and in both 1959/60 and 2001/02 the Whites went on to play in the final. Of note, they also went on to win the title both times.

Because away goals are so valuable in the UCL, one of the keys to Wednesday’s match is to not concede any goals. The Madridistas have been experts in doing so in the Champions League and hope for a repeat performance against Barcelona. The players are dreaming about "a Bernabeu that scores the first goal" and fans are ecstatic about the possibility of reaching the Wembley final. By joining forces they hope to turn the dream into a reality.

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