Tuesday, 12 June 2007

¡Hala Madrid! Part Two

After the Prado, the sky had clouded over and threatened rain. We headed to a nearby restaurant for an amiable lunch to talk over all we'd seen and make further plans. I'm not going to tell you what I had. No, I'm not. This blog is almost entirely food obsessed, and I'm putting a stop to it now! Except to say that Spanish food really is incredibly oily, and how they manage to live beyond 25 without any vegetables at all is a complete mystery.

With lunch over, we decided to have a lazy afternoon playing cards at the flat. I'd promised Fisher this was to be her holiday, and that we would do as she wished, so when she enthused at the idea of playing Euchre back at the flat, adding that going to see a second museum would be a bit of sensory overload, our afternoon was decided. After all, we were there to see Brother and Gaura as much as we were there to visit Madrid.

It wasn't until evening that we ventured out again, in search of a bar showing the Real Madrid v Real Zaragoza match. There were only 2 things for which I'd expressed a true desire, one of which was watching this game surrounded by Madridistas. I wanted to know how the passion compared to English fans - and also, while the EPL had been wrapped up by Man U a while before the season's end, la liga is still up for grabs. Real and Barça are on equal points, with only head-to-heads dictating Real are in the lead. Therefore, if Real lost and Barça won, Real would lose the lead. And if Real drew while Barça won, they'd also go into the final game second rather than first. It was incredibly tense.

We chose a place called The Beer Station, which specialises in foreign beers and had a separate room in which to watch the game from long wooden benches. The first thing I noticed was that, while the pub was full, most people were in the bar. The football room was all but empty when we arrived, and when the game kicked off it was far from full. I suppose you could have called it 'well attended' - but In England, such a place and such a game would have seen the benches overflowing, the walls lined and the floor packed with nail-biting, pint guzzling, obscenity throwing fans.

However, once the game got into its flow, what was lacked in numbers was certainly made up for in passion. The front bench was taken up with four girls and one bloke. One of the girls was listening on her radio to the other games being played simultaneously, and when Espanyol scored against Barca she leapt to her feet and shrieked. The score was also displayed in the top right hand corner of the Real game, but it took a while for the information to be relayed to the TV so she learned about it a good 30 seconds before everyone else. When the TV score clicked round, the room erupted. Espanyol are mid-table, and nobody really thought Barca would have much trouble with them - but there they were, one goal ahead thanks to a penalty.

Unfortunately, after some pressing play from both sides in the opening 20 minutes, Real went behind to a good goal from a Diego Milito free kick, who capitalised on Helguerra's clumsy handling of the ball. Then came more bad news - the little toad of a cheat that is Lionel Messi had equalised at the Nou Camp by scoring with his left hand. He really is following in Maradona's flawed footsteps.

After half time, Real had it all to do. Capello recognised they were making very few chances in a packed midfield, and changed Guti for Raúl and Higuaín for Emerson. But the news went from bad to worse as Messi scored again at the Nou Camp, putting Barça 2-1 ahead. Thankfully, hope came in the form of Ruud Van Nistelrooy, who scored immediately after Barça's second, from a terrific, Beckham-esque pass from Sergio Ramos.

Typically, no sooner had Real finished celebrating their equaliser (which still put them into second place) but Milito notched up his second of the night after Aimar's fantastic run into the Madrid danger area. 1-2, and 25 minutes to play. Madrid had to score twice to retain the top of the table. There was no way Espanyol were going to get another goal past Barça with so much at stake.

Time ticked on, with Real battering Zaragoza to no avail. A Van Nistelrooy header went tamely into the 'keeper's hands ("¡Cabron!" was the shout behind me), and there were a couple of infuriating shots wide ("¡Joder!" and "¡Hijo de puta!" - this time from the man in front). Roberto Carlos and David Beckham were missing the mark with their free kicks, and the penetration needed to really threaten César's excellent 'keeping just wasn't there. Real were going to blow it, almost at the death. Barça were going into the last game on top of the table, only needing a draw to retain the title.

Then, in the last minute, Roberto Carlos managed to put in his first decent cross of the night, Ruud Van N latched onto it - and it was 2-2! The crowd in the bar went utterly wild, despite the fact a draw would only narrow the gap between them and Barça. But wait! Twenty seconds later ... and at the Nou Camp, Raúl Tamudo equalised for Espanyol!

Unbelievable! The pub rocked with bellows and screams as, for the second week in the row, Roberto Carlos dragged Real Madrid out of the fire. The man in front leapt ten feet in the air before embracing his girlfriend to the point of preventing her from actually breathing. I'd definitely say that, while there may not be as many ardent football fans as in the UK, those who follow their team do so with equal passion.

So, at the end of all that, Real Madrid are still on top, with Barça on exactly the same number of points but behind on head-to-heads. Any slip on the final game of the season, and it's goodnight whoever.

And let's not forget Sevilla, who sit only two points behind Real and Barca. Should both Real and Barca lose and Sevilla win, it'll be the southern team who take the title! I'll definitely be glued to the set this weekend!

Post game, we went to the restaurant Brother and Gaura had tried to take us to on the first night - a Mexican very close to the flat. It was, by far, the nicest food I've had in Spain ... but once again I'll refrain from going into boring detail. I'll just end this post by saying it was a very pleasant day, with a mixture of sightseeing, relaxation and evening entertainment that had something to please everyone. At least - that's what I think. Fisher has her own blog (a closely guarded secret) which may tell a very different story. Who knows?