Why there was confetti I'm not sure, but with my arms out I looked to the sky as the over-head camera slowly spun higher and higher into the air. The crowd clapped and barefoot children that had rushed the field lovingly brushed the confetti off of my shoulder. Moments ago, in the 93rd minute, I had given Diego Forlán a lovely through-ball that he finished emphatically in the top corner. His goal was the third that beat Barcelona, 3 to 2.
I was enjoying my dream as the train arrived and when I stepped on I was greeted by an ominous sign; someone had thrown up all over ground. Suddenly the empty train made sense to me now. So did all the horrified faces that expected me to step in the vomit. (Ding ding ding) Before I could run out of the doors closed behind me. I held my nose and turned away. Yep, an ominous sign indeed.
I arrive at the stadium and sit in my seat the exact moment Atlético Madrid comes out to warm up. Booooo, the crowd says, but they don't really mean it. I scan the players on the field frantically until I find you-know-who and remember to breathe again. You see, I had read a rumor on the interwebs that Quique Sanchez Flores, the Atlético manager, would not be starting the World Cup's best player. Phew. He's in the building everyone, no need to panic!
Oh. Oh wait. He's wearing warm-ups. Well not just warm-ups, he's wearing the full warm-up outfit that 10 other players and 1 goalie are not wearing. I count the passing-lines again. Shit! Ten. Hold-up, I think I got 9. It wouldn't surprise me at all if Diego doesn't warm up with the rest of the proletariat. ...8, 9, ten. Shit!! Diego is not starting. Damn you Quique, damn you to hell. To make matters worse, Javier Mascherano walks over to Doug and starts chatting him up. I may be a thousand meters away, but I can tell Diego's not really in to the convo.
So I watch them converse for longer than I would have liked and Mascherano finally walks away. An errant ball flies at Diego and he back-heels it back to where it came. That moment of class is quickly ruined because Gabby Milito jogs over and starts conversing with Forlán. Is this some kind of sick joke?
Once the game starts and I finally have clear, incontrovertible proof that Diego Forlán is in fact, not starting, a wave of bitterness overwhelms me.
Really? Really everyone? Barcelona is so unbeatable that Q. Florez Sanchez , having lost 3 out of the previous 3 games, thinks it's best to try a defensive formation against The Barcelona Futbol Club, aka, Barça F. Baby, the greatest team alive. The same squad that put a 5-hand on Real Madrid. The same squad that causes managers to rest 8 of their 11 starters? The squad that made one manager say, "If it were up to me we'd give them 6 points every year and play 36 games."
Alright that last one wasn't true, but still, can't we even try to compete against them, guys? The answer that Atlético gave was, no (!), and the same is true for 16 other teams in La Liga that mention Leonel Messi in their press-conferences just to get some air-time. It's starting to get annoying.
Oh look, Messi scored. Oh look, Messi scored again. No doubt he's getting a hat-trick tonight... yawn (yawn). The half-time whistle blows and I'm given 15 minutes to try and regain my composure. The Pakistani ooh'ing and aw'ing over simple passes and yelling Bar-sha, instead of Bar-sa, definitely got to me. Let's be frank, I was having a meltdown.
Of course, Doug E. Fresh snaps me back to reality. He has come out to warm up - just him and the trainer - and it's clear he's coming on to begin the second half. I crack a smile and dopamine washes over me. "Time to get the camera out!!" I say to myself, in Barefoot Contessa's voice. (I had already taken, um, 10 pictures of him standing on the field an hour ago.)
The players take the field for the second half and the 4th referee finally holds up the neon lights everyone came here to watch. 7. Yes. Atlético comes out of the gates with some giddy-up, naturally, and for a brief moment they look threatening. My bias knows no end, so I'll let Jimbo tell the story: "Scoreline was maybe a little misleading at the end, especially because Atletico were like 3x better with Forlan on the field". I concur.
Messi, of course, bags his hat-trick. Before I let you know how sour these grapes are, I would like to point out that two of his three goals that night were very fortuitous. Deflections that could have gone anywhere settled at his feet warmly, while goalies and defenders flailed around like pigeons scattering from a running child. He's getting all the breaks, the whole team is, there's no point in denying it. I'm not trying to say they didn't earn it, you know, the same way Dimitar Berbatov deserves all his near-post goals.
The full-time whistle sounded, and immediately the anthem blasted from the speakers. Diego played well. It was in a 3-nil loss in which he played only 45 minutes and his manager conceded before the team bus arrived, but he played well nonetheless. There was a moment around the 60th minute when he seemed to pull the earth out of orbit. He received the ball near the corner flag and dribbled at Pique. Gerard Pique everyone. The like, greatest defender on this earth. Gerard assumed his crouch and strafed, ready for yet another shot defended or pass deflected to fill up his stat sheet. Diego, maintaining his stride, looked down, feinted a cross, made a cut and effortlessly skipped around Pique. My heart stopped. It was still 2-nil at this point and Doug just made Gerard Pique look like a Serie A defender. The cross lead to nothing, Kun flubed the shot, but it did lead to my epiphany.
Yes, you are witnessing a team that only comes around every fifty years. You are all privileged to know someone, who knows someone, who has season tickets to the Camp Nou. But that doesn't mean this squad is unbeatable. The respect given to this team hours and even days before their "competition" steps on the field is too much. And not every pass they make is inch perfect. I was there, I watched every pass. It's gotten to the point where Xavi or Iniesta get away with mistakes and bad touches simply because they've been given too much respect.
There are only three instances when the opposition played Barcelona FC straight up, as equals. The first was Hercules, they won, the second was Real Madrid, they lost by I forget how many (no I don't, it was five), and the third was Espanyol, who lost 5-1. The remaining 16 teams in La Liga should be ashamed. The rest of La Liga comes out on the pitch and metaphorically empties their pockets and hands over their car keys. "Thanks for beating us so easily!", they whisper face down with their arms behind their backs.
Sincerely, Barcelona FC
Arsene Wenger cobbled together starting lineups with spit and duct tape and Denilson and somehow the team dragged its ass over the finish line in third or fourth.