European Football

On Oscars night, Madrid plumps for drama

Oh the beauty of the dying swan! Majestic, graceful and doomed! On the night that the superficial world of showbiz hands-out slightly homo-erotic pieces of objet d’art, Atletico and Real Madrid wanted to get in on the act. No need to take a plane to Hollywood, these two teams had a passionate audience to play to.

These fierce capital-city rivals lived up to the old stereotype that was rolled-out every time a British team played a Spanish or Italian team in European competition. Off-the-ball fouls, pushing, shoving, play-acting (Pepe, you belong at Shakespeare’s Globe) and most of all, dives that Tom Daly would be proud of!

Mostly, it didn’t spoil what was a riveting contest and at 2-2, a fair result. And although Cristiano Ronaldo – with a hair-style that had clearly been freshly coiffured for Los Angeles – scored Real’s late equaliser, he had a quiet afternoon at the Vicente Calderon stadium.

Atletico may have come within eight minutes of completing their first double over Real since 1951, but they had to overcome a shaky start in which Real took the lead after just three minutes, the splendid Karim Benzeme sliding the ball into the net from a cross by Angel Di Maria.

Atletico pleaded for offside, but Benzeme had timed it well. Diego Simeone wasn’t happy, but then he spent most of the game hopping outside his technical area and playing Senor Angry. Carlo Ancelotti, his opposite number, adopted his usual stance of a man who looked as though he was thinking about the evening’s supper.

Atletico came back strongly and equalised after 28 minutes, when good work by their man of the match, Arda Turan, set-up  Koke who drove a low effort past Diego Lopez. Atletico’s keeper, Thibaud Courtois, pulled off a dramatic save just before the equaliser to keep his side in the game.

As the tension grew, so too did the theatrics. Ronaldo was constantly falling over on his knees, begging for an Elastoplast and Diego Costa was hoisted by his own petard, his diving going unnoticed by the referee. Being cast in the role of “the boy who cried wolf”, when Costa did have genuine cause to appeal for a penalty, it was ignored. And Real’s Pepe, when falling in the penalty area like a sniper from a nearby block of flats had just picked him out, was rightly shown a yellow card!

Atletico went ahead in the 45th minute with a spectacular long-range shot by skipper Gabi Fernandez, which must have been 30-yards plus. So the home side went in at the interval 2-1 to the good.

Diego Costa should have put the game beyond Real in the opening stages of the second period, but gradually, the La Liga leaders gained the upper hand. Benzeme and Gareth Bale, who came more into the game in the second half, both went close to equalising and Ronaldo came alive with a header that almost found the net. In the 82nd minute, Bale failed to control a cut-back from Daniel Carvajal and the ball rolled to Ronaldo, who shot beyond Courtois for a fine equaliser.

A 2-2 draw did little to close the gap on Real, but it meant that Atletico are unbeaten against them, which may come in useful if the two teams are level at the end of the season. It was a compelling 90 minutes, but perhaps next time, a little less village hall acting…

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