Saturday, April 10, 2010
On May 2 last year, Jabeen and I were waiting at Esfahan's bus terminal for our overnight coach to Tehran. On a snowy television set, a maulana droned a sermon watched by two or three pious travellers but ignored by the majority in the room. Suddenly the picture changed to a football match, and the excited commentary got everyone's attention. Once people saw FC Barcelona were playing Real Madrid, they gravitated to the TV, and soon the seats in front of the screen were all taken. Madrid went ahead to cheers from some of the viewers, then Henry scored for Barca to even greater applause, and Puyol followed up with a goal immediately after. When the bus came in a few minutes later, the rapt audience was reluctant to board. Messi put in a third goal just as we exited the terminal, and a home defeat seemed certain for Madrid.
That match ended 6-2 in Barcelona's favour, and pretty much decided last year's winners. El Clásico returns today as Barcelona travel to the Bernabeu, and the two Spanish footballing monsters are closer than ever in the league. After 30 games, they are tied on 77 points, and Madrid leads the standings by virtue of the slimmest of goal differences: 57 to Barca's 56. To get an impression of how far ahead of their other opponents these two are, consider that third placed Valencia are over 20 points behind; and Sevilla, in fourth, are on 48 points, virtually 30 points adrift of the league leaders.
Here's the bummer: I will not get to watch the match tonight because no Indian satellite channel has shelled out the million dollar asking prize for La Liga telecast rights. It's a travesty, really. I mean, what's a million dollars for networks like Star Sports? For years, one could tune to Ten Sports or ESPN around midnight and find Zidane or Eto'o or Ronaldinho working their magic. These days I take for granted that any event in any sport I want to watch will be streaming on one of the eight or nine sports channels to which I subscribe. Hamilton, Federer, Kobe, Tiger, they're all out there. But Messi and Christiano Ronaldo are not. Makes me wish I was in Iran again.
When I wake, I'll go to YouTube and watch the goals. So, go Barca, teach the fat cats at Real that money isn't everything.
UPDATE: They did it, 2-0, helped by two brilliant passes by Xavi. The first came from a one-two with Messi. Two Barcelona forwards were offside, and so Real's defenders thought they had everything under control. But they didn't catch the tiny guy whizzing by to chest the ball down and score with his weaker right foot. The second came when Madrid were pushing forward to equalise and got caught on the break.