Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Two Dead Ties

At 7.45, an eagerly-awaited tie kicked off. At about 8.00 it was over.

Real Madrid 4-0 Spurs

Harry Redknapp picked an adventurous line up. Bale, Lennon, Modric, Van der Vaart and Crouch were all set to start. But Lennon felt sick and so, minutes before the start of the game, Jenas stepped into the starting eleven.

Maybe this late shift unnerved Spurs, as it took Real only four minutes to pierce their rearguard in straightforward fashion. Adebayor, so often the scourge of Tottenham in his Arsenal days, rose unchallenged to power a corner kick goalwards, and Modric could not clear the ball from beside the post.

A rotten start got worse courtesy of some jaw-dropping stupidity. Peter Crouch had already been booked for a late, reckless lunge, and when the ball broke loose in similar fashion minutes later, he amazingly launched into a reprise. Marcello got to the ball first and Crouch was off. On Sky Sports, Ray Wilkins moaned about Marcello's fist-pumping when he saw his opponent's fate, but there was only one thing worth complaining about, and that was Crouch's idiocy. Naivety had threatened to derail Spurs as early as the qualifying round against Young Boys, and although they seemed to have matured since, tonight they regressed.

In the first half, however, the home side seemed unsure of what to do with their numerical advantage. Madrid are more built for fast counters than patient probing, and with Spurs sitting deep, they struggled to find opportunities. For their part, the visitors were pretty wretched in possession, and Modric never found the space to prompt. But there were glimmers of hope as the half wore on. A quick, long throw from Bale caught out the Real backline momentarily, but as Van der Vaart chested the ball down and set himself to strike, Carvalho chased back to execute a last ditch challenge. Dawson's raking diagonal pass sent Bale racing behind the clueless Ramos, but the Welshman could only find the side netting from a tight angle.

The second half was an altogether different affair. Real came to terms with their advantage, attacked with conviction. Redknapp sent Defoe on for Van der Vaart, but, typically enough, the striker failed to involve himself in the game. To be fair to him, he was given little opportunity. Still, Spurs remained resolute for a while, and we were given a snapshot of why Barcelona are so much better than their bitter rivals. Where Messi, Iniesta and Xavi can find space in the tightest of avenues, Madrid looked blunt and predictable, until a quick corner from Ronaldo caught the Tottenham back line napping. Di Maria's cross was perfect for Adebayor- again unmarked- and Gomes could only stand and admire as the majestic header soared into the corner of his goal.

After that, the only question was how many. The answer, two more, was somewhat harsh on Spurs, as they were not often opened up. It suggested a ruthlessness on Madrid's part, and that may be vital in the event of a semi-final against Barca, who were amazingly profligate against Arsenal. First Di Maria whacked an unstoppable effort into the top corner from the edge of the box. Then, substitute Kaka found a pinpoint cross for Ronaldo, who volleyed on-target, and Gomes fumbled into the net to complete a miserable night for Tottenham.

The night's other game started with a surreal goal and ended with a surreal result.

Inter 2-5 Schalke
When Manuel Neuer raced from his goal to clear the ball to halfway, it seemed he had swept up to good effect. But it fell to Dejan Stankovic, and his exquisite first time volley sailed back over the keeper's head, and hit the net before even bouncing. A truly sensational strike, and not the first time Stankovic has scored a volley from ridiculous range.

The rest of the night belonged to Schalke. The score was 2-2 at half time, but after the interval Inter's defence went to pieces. Raul put the Germans in front to bolster his amazing goals record in the competition, with a typical piece of opportunistic forward play and a poked finish. An own goal from Ranocchia and a red card for Chivu later, an emphatic finish from Edu, his second of the night, killed the tie, and ensured that meaningless second legs will be the order of next Wednesday night. Man United and Chelsea could be forgiven for thinking that their tie is now effectively a semi-final.

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