Oct 7, 2012, 4:45 PM EDT
Before Sunday, the rivalry between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo had been a media construct – a fabrication that helped create the kind of dramatic headlines that drive ratings and win page views. People who follow the game know this, but the debate — Ronaldo or Messi, Messie or Ronaldo — gave editors the justification. Even if they aren’t exactly Ali-Frazier, Magic-Bird rivals, their stature in world soccer makes discussion inevitable.
That discussion’s set for a new level after Sunday’s theatrics in Barcelona. The final score may say Barcelona and Real Madrid drew, 2-2, but the result everybody will be talking about is the battle of the stars: Lionel Messi 2, Cristiano Ronaldo 2.
It’s hard to believe in that in the 21 Clasicos since Ronaldo joined Real Madrid, this is the first time each icon’s scored twice in the same game. We were expecting matches like these when Real bought Ronaldo, but three years and 21 matches into the era, we finally have some perspective on how special and rare these games are going to be.
How often can they really happen? Even for Messi and Ronaldo, multi-goal games are uncommon, but for each to have one in the same Clasico? We shouldn’t have expected so much.
That’s what makes today’s match so amazing – both men with braces, in a Clasico, in a game where nobody else scored. It was just them, on their own, with complete responsibility for whatever their team was going to do. True, Karim Benzema and Pedro Rodríguez each found the woodwork, but when they didn’t it, it only reinforced the feeling: It was going to be Messi and Ronaldo or nobody for Spain’s Big Two.
But while Messi and Ronaldo may have dominated on the scoresheet, there were large stretches of play where neither mattered. For the first 30 minutes, Messi was practically shut out. Only a collapse from Real’s defense in the 31st minute brought him into the game, giving Messi a chance to pounce on a loose ball in Iker Casillas’s six-yard box. Before then, Barcelona couldn’t convert their dominance of possession into chances for their star.
And with that possession advantage, Ronaldo was left to collect dust on Real’s wing. Such is life in the Clasicos. When Barça holds the ball for 60, 65 percent of the time, all you can do is be patient and have faith. Wait for Sami Khedira or Xabi Alonso to win a ball, then burst. The rest of the time, Ronaldo stayed wide and on the left, forced to wait for whatever isolated chances Real could create.
Sunday, he only got two, but Ronaldo took them both. His first half opener came as Daniel Alves was drawn inside, allowing Karim Benzema to find him in the left of the penalty area. Later, Mesut Özil found him testing Barcelona’s trap. A left-footed blast on the first, a quick release on the second, and Ronaldo had his brace. Those were his only chances of the night.
Messi saw a lot more of the ball, but he had even fewer chances. The first goal came from chaos – pure luck and opportunism. The second was from a dead ball, Messi dipping a perfect ball behind the Real wall, into the right of Casillas’s goal from 24 yards out. Messi may have dictated play for the match’s final 35 minutes, but the scoring chances were still nearly impossible to find.
And while it may have been more fun to see each star get six, seven chances on goal, their efficiency somehow made the match more special. There was no hesitation, no waste. Each man had to convert the few chances he saw. After Ronaldo equalized in the 66th minute, you knew whoever got the next chance would win the match.
But it never came. The final chance fell to Pedro, who nailed the cross bar near full time.
Perhaps the draw only raises the stakes. The next time there’s a shootout (if there is a next time), both men will know. They’ll need to empty their chambers. If there’s going to be a winner, they’re going to have to take the shot.
Sep 20, 2014, 12:25 AM EDT
Real Salt Lake demolished the Colorado Rapids, 5-1, at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
Sep 19, 2014, 11:55 PM EDT
Five consecutive goals have Real Salt Lake ahead of the Colorado Rapids tonight, 5-1.
Sep 19, 2014, 10:52 PM EDT
Preview of West Ham v. Liverpool match on NBC at 12:30 p.m. ET this Saturday.
Sep 19, 2014, 9:55 PM EDT
Watch Real Salt Lake encounter the Colorado Rapids live on NBCSN or NBC Sports Live Extra at 10:00 p.m. ET tonight.
Sep 19, 2014, 9:00 PM EDT
Preview of Aston Villa vs. Arsenal match on NBCSN at 10:00 a.m. ET this Saturday.
Sep 19, 2014, 8:21 PM EDT
Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini and Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho hold different rationales about midfielder Frank Lampard’s Stamford Bridge exit this year.
Sep 19, 2014, 7:17 PM EDT
UEFA president Michel Platini doesn’t wish to give into FIFA’s pressure to return a watch gifted to him at the World Cup.
Sep 19, 2014, 6:31 PM EDT
Seattle Sounders FC have signed Nigerian defender Onyekachi Apam.
Sep 19, 2014, 5:58 PM EDT
Financial figures for Arsenal released by club today.
Sep 19, 2014, 4:40 PM EDT
Coritiba striker Joel brought out a one-of-a-kind goal celebration vs. Sao Paolo.
Sep 19, 2014, 3:35 PM EDT
Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez has sung the praises of former Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, who the forward believed was instrumental in getting himself exposure in Europe.
Sep 19, 2014, 3:06 PM EDT
Gareth Bale could one day return to Tottenham, but his waxing poetic on White Hart Lane is likely nothing more than political fare.
Sep 19, 2014, 2:24 PM EDT
Of course it’s possible that Louis van Gaal could bring Ronaldo to Manchester United, but he doesn’t believe his current team is interested.
Sep 19, 2014, 1:46 PM EDT
How many times in his life has Ronaldinho performed this task with flair (or at least adequately)?
Sep 19, 2014, 12:55 PM EDT
Tim Howard’s stint as No. 1 USMNT backstop may be on hiatus, but the battle of who’s the top American goalkeeper in the Premier League is on
Sep 19, 2014, 12:05 PM EDT
An even rivalry heads to Loftus Road to start its season series on Saturday, kicking off the Premier League weekend.
Sep 19, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Where and how to watch every PL game during Week 5, right here.
Sep 19, 2014, 11:20 AM EDT
A Washington Post report asks why Hope Solo is being celebrated for her on-field efforts while awaiting the results of her not guilty plea to domestic abuse charges.
Sep 19, 2014, 10:32 AM EDT
It’s not about the Impact, the CONCACAF Champions League or the club’s record. For Di Vaio, it’s about home.
Sep 19, 2014, 9:25 AM EDT
Perhaps the investigation took a bit too long, but it seems many athletes did not understand the depths of their joke usage.
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