On the Bale trail – Real Madrid 7 Sevilla 3

photo (5)

Time to find out if Gareth Bale has the cojones for La Liga.

And what a game it proved. A famous stadium. A famous scoreline – same as the incredible 1960 European Cup Final – harking back to days of Di Stefano and Puskas. The sense of history celebrated and history in the making was immense.

Previous visit

A certain John Benjamin Toshack, as the local press always called him,  was manager of Real at the time of Jose Camacho´s testimonial in May 1990 which paid tribute to the legendary Spanish hardman. The left back went on to manage the national side.

The Sevilla game attracted 65,000 to see Gareth Bale grab two goals
The Sevilla game attracted 65,000 to see Gareth Bale grab two goals

Before the main dish – Real v AC Milan, who featured Frank Rijkaard and all the stars – a tasty appetiser was served up – Barcelona Veterans v Real Madrid Veterans.

As Real manager though not a ´vet´, John Benjamin hijacked his way into appearing in the home side´s XI. The veterans had his number though – they refused to pass to him and John Benjamin brought himself off, so to speak, long before the end.

Back then, the top tier of the stadium, where I perched to watch the game, seemed like an ugly cage. On the outside the Santiago Bernabeu looked grand, inside it was a grotty and grimy.

Now it´s been primped and polished to within an inch of its life. Lots of stewards, though they´re less bossy than in the UK, cleaners by the bucketload, all sporting mops or brushes, stacks of people checking tickets on the gate. The seats are a bit scabby and sun-bleached but otherwise it is a vast improvement.

Club shop

Bet Ronaldo doesn´t pop in too often. It´s been turned into a marketing shrine to that wonderful Welshman, Mr Bale. Just like on the pitch, he´s everywhere.

Ten black mannequins sporting Bale shirts form a welcoming party, as you step through the door, in two serried rows of five.

Five Gareth Bales, there´s only five Gareth Bales
Five Gareth Bales, there´s only five Gareth Bales

All the usual tat on sale. On the walls, all the usual moronic marketing-speak masquerading as motivational messages for the mindless.

Motivational messages for the masses
Motivational messages for the masses

You´re pestered by young people to sign up for something. It´s faintly depressing because the slogans trying to inspire you to great things in life just insult your intelligence. It´s a paradise for parrot-speakers and piffle preachers.

Ticket

If you fancy a ticket that´s not stuck up in the gods, a decent tip is to hang around the ticket office (taquilla) earlier in the day and wait to be approached by a gummy grandpa who will call you ´Chico´.

These people are trying to offload their season tickets for a match they don´t fancy. As this game finished at approximately 23.58 and 23 seconds, I reckon my supplier didn´t fancy the late night, chilly weather and having to fight his way home on the tubephoto (8)

He demanded an austerity-busting 50 euros, I stuck to 40 and meanie old me scored an important psychological victory. Cheapest ticket from the taquilla would have been 40 euros.

And what a treasure it was. Behind the goal, 12 rows from the front in the Fondo Norte, sitting next to two Peruvian restaurant workers from Lima. The alternative would have been to be in an eagle´s eyrie on the top deck, a strain on the eyesight.

Match

A big step up from Lewes v Leatherhead, that´s for sure. 7-3 is a lot of goals and I´ve no intention of describing all of them.

Bale got the first two within 20 minutes – the second a lucky deflection from a free kick. He would´ve had a hat-trick by 30 minutes had Ronaldo allowed him to take the penalty. It wasn´t a penalty but the ref deemed Isco had been tripped.

Gareth Bale lines up the free-kick from which he scored Real Madrid´s second goal
Gareth Bale lines up the free-kick from which he scored Real Madrid´s second goal

3-0 after 30 and you reckon it´s over. Rakitic netted another dubious penalty and Sevilla grabbed a breakaway to make it 3-2 at the break.

Interesting to note that Sergio Ramos and Alvaro Arbeloa both started in Real´s back line. Both featured in Spain´s European Championship 2012 final. If these two play like they did in this match, Spain are not a good bet to win next year´s World Cup.

Arbeloa in particular was appalling. Khedira and Illarramundi, the central midfield pairing in front of them did not help – Khedira looking cumbersome – he doesn´t run on the balls of his feet and looks flat-footed.

Jese didn´t play so his butties got a bit worked up and knocked up this banner
Jese didn´t play so his butties got a bit worked up and knocked up this banner

Real are a strange mix of a fearsome attacking and vulnerable defence. Sevilla should have scored five and that´s definitive proof that Real have problems.

The turning point game after 53 minutes. Jairo was put through for a goal that would have made it 3-3. Diego Lopez saved, the loose ball was fed to Ronaldo who went on a rampaging run through the Sevilla midfield, slipped the ball to Bale on the right. The low cross was netted by Benzema. 4-2.

Ronaldo got two more in the next 20 minutes, Sevilla´s Mbia was unlucky to be sent off, Rakitic missed a Sevilla penalty and Benzema got the seventh in the 79th minute.

So, a walkover. Atmosphere was generally good. Only in the Fondo Sur behind the goal do fans really stand up and try to lift the side.

They raised a banner ¨Cristiano, El Fondo Sur esta contigo´ – Cristiano, the Fondo Sur are with you. Presumably as Sepp Blatter was perceived to have offended the crowd favourite. But then, who hasn´t Mr Blatter offended over the years?

Most people around me happily chattered throughout the match and only got animated when a goal was scored or the referee, even when Real were streets ahead, upset them with a decision.

How not to take a penalty kick

OK kids, to get the full effect, click on the enlargement icon, then click on the arrow below and pay attention.

I bet you ducked.

It´s been a tough year. Thrown out of a job I despised, cricket matches biting me in the bum and now Croatian midfielder Ivan Rakitic, who had a generally excellent match and outshone the Real central midfielders, deliberately aims a penalty right at me.

Or am I just being paranoid?

Karim Benzema

Benzema must feel he is in heaven with only one decision to make in all his games this season. Near-post or far-post run? With Ronaldo and Bale supplying the crosses, most of the runs will have something on the end to nibble at.

Benzema is the luckiest man in the world. He couldn´t get any luckier if Miss World asked him for a date.

Should Karim ever tout for a transfer out of town he will have outed himself as the thickest footballer since Vinny Jones thought he was good enough to play for Wales.

Gareth Bale

I don´t give a rat´s arse about Real Madrid. My interest in them is whether Bale stays fit enough to play 150 games for Wales. I will settle for 100 though.

La Liga, on the basis of this match, is the perfect setting for the Messi/Ronaldo/Bale type player. Referees offer so much protection to these players, you could argue they´re over protective and that tackling is a worthless skill.

Football papers in Madrid point out that Ronaldo has a goal average of 1.06 per game for Real. Di Stefano´s was 0.71 per game and no doubt he had to face nastier, more brutish opponents. Surely Ronaldo´s goal rate is down to the greater protection the skilful players, rightly, receive?photo (4)

Bale didn´t have to run his legs off, he had the chance to saunter around and rarely tracked back unnecessarily. It was no surprise he lasted 93 minutes – he wasn´t required to put in a lung-bursting British-style shift. He hardly made an error, won most headers, set up two goals and scored two more.

Despite having suffered from injury recently I think he played within himself. There was no sense at the end that he was dog tired and glad to head to the dressing room. In fact, he was the last player off after heading to the centre circle at the final whistle to clap the fans. Good PR.

La Liga´s cocoon of comforts, compared to Britain´s top tier, could well ensure Bale suffers fewer injuries than had he stayed in Britain. His toughest matches for Real will be those against the top six or eight of this division (Sevilla were tenth) and the Champions League.

Looking at Real´s itinerary, the next league test might not be until January 12 (Espanol). The next potential dogfight could be as far away as February (Athletic Bilbao).

All this is good for Wales.

Cojones

My favourite word in all languages since I heard Ernest Borgnine in Sam Peckinpah´s The Wild Bunch vengefully howl of Robert Ryan: ¨Bring me his cojones.¨

More cojones from  the Real Madrid club shop. What´s it mean?
More cojones from the Real Madrid club shop. What´s it mean?

The Whitchurch Whippet´s cojones appear to be in full working order.

Verdict

Welsh fans wishing to see Gareth Bale in the flesh now have  an enticing option, assuming you can get a ticket. Cheap flight from Bristol, book a hostel and you can see two of the greatest stars on the same pitch.

It won´t be 7-3 every week but it was highly enjoyable, far better than even my wildest dreams.

In the week when a favourite rock star, loco Lou Reed, passed away, this was just a perfect day.

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