Athletic Club lost 3-2 at Santiago Bernabéu against Real Madrid. Etxeberria and Iraola, from a…
Athletic Club lost 3-2 at Santiago Bernabéu against Real Madrid. Etxeberria and Iraola, from a penalty, scored the goals for our team and Sneijder and Higuain (2) for the locals. In the end the general commentary of the week had been fulfilled: it must be a perfect match in all the aspects in order to score but too many factors had accumulated, ours and others, for this to happen. In addition, if the defeat and the difficult situation in the standings were not enough punishment, and once the development of the match could be seen, in which there was something for everyone, one must listen to people say that the referees have their minds supposedly set on a crusade to harm Real Madrid. Ah well.
The duel had begun according to the script which had been written prior to the encounter. Real Madrid wanted to cause damage with its 4-3-3 formation without a set pattern having been established and with constant shifts of field positions in the mid-field area towards the front. Athletic Club had good field position at the back with a clear 4-4-2 formation and an inkling of pressure when the rival ball was put into play.
Unfortunately, the Blancos noticed all too soon that the centre of the defensive line was the most vulnerable. To start with, Sneijder launched a probe from his side of the field in the 2nd minute, but the real danger came when the already mentioned player down the left wing and Higuain down the right beat the centre-backs. In the seventh minute the linesman’s flag was raised which meant that a goal by Higuain was annulled for being off-side which was not the case, even though the referee had blown the whistle before the shot at goal, but Lady Luck did not smile again in the 12th minute when Balenziaga hung on to a player and which Sneijder took advantage of to score 1-0.
Just as they have done so many times before, with little effort Real Madrid were ahead while our team made run after run down both wings without any results at all for not being on the ball for the final pass. This being the state of things, the match became one of give and take. In the 17th minute Llorente finished off a corner kick with a header which was cleared from under the goal posts by Casillas and Marcelo. One minute later Sneijder fired away but his shot at goal hit the post, in the 19th Etxeberria took a shot at goal with the left which just missed and in the 20th minute Casillas ruined an individual run by Gabilondo.
The nervousness was on the rise in the Bernabéu stands, but Higuain was the only one who kept up the pace impassively. In the 27th a chip shot was attempted but without success and in the 28th the same red carpet was rolled out once again when he scored a goal with relative ease (2-0). To date the ability to fight back was not one of our team’s strong points. Nevertheless and despite our bad streak of poor match results, the team knew how to keep their heads up high, something that says a lot about them, never gave up in their persistence and at the half-time break left the field with the clash even (2-2). In fact Real Madrid had disappeared in attack up until the interval. To start with Etxeberria put an end to the goalless drought which the team had been dragging behind them after receiving a pass which had been ‘gathered up’ by Yeste and lofting the ball as Casillas had come forward leaving his goal area unprotected.
It was minute 34 of the game and there was still time to tip the scale. Gabilondo, from far away, sent a ball straight to the hands of Casillas in the 41st and was on the verge of scoring in the 45th minute. Heinze and Llorente repeated and, just like last season, the hand to Llorente’s face resulted in a penalty which was converted into goal by Iraola in spite of the local protests and ruse before the shot at goal was taken; and contrary to what happens in the Bugs Bunny cartoons, that wasn’t all folks. Marcelo, not satisfied with trying to confuse Iraola before taking the shot at goal, interrupted the match with a foul against Etxeberria at knee-height, but the tension was so much so at the Bernabéu that only a yellow card was given. Not bad for an orchestrated manoeuvre.
No substitutions to kick off the second half. Athletic willing and ready to take the bull by the horns, but achieving a perfect outcome at the Bernabéu is not an easy task. Without doing anything out of the ordinary, a couple of sparks as a result of their undeniable class were enough for the host team to rise once again to the crest of the wave. It seemed as though he wasn’t on the field, but a couple of feints by Robben and a long controlled pass from Higuain was deflected to the crossbar by Iraizoz which was enough to incline the affair. And even more so after a corner kick was taken and an absurd bounce had given Heinze the opportunity to take a shot at goal which hit the posts once more. The Blancos grew in confidence and Robben gave Iraizoz a work out in the 55th minute.
Garmendia replaced Joseba Etxeberria and in the 57th minute was in the heart of the goal area so that Gabilondo could take a shot at goal with his right leg which barely missed its mark. And that’s how it went for our team, they were on their way to completing a perfect match when Yeste lost a ball on the way which Gago swiftly directed towards Higuain who, from right in the middle, stood before Iraizoz and beat him without holding back. Back to the old drawing board.
The film was an old one. Real Madrid wanted to have ball possession and Guti stepped in for Van der Vaart, while Salgado was given a yellow card in the 65th minute. Gabilondo, meanwhile, in the 68th was the star of the first dangerous post-goal opportunity, but it was Real Madrid who were enjoying the dynamics of the clash, a roundtrip and a direct rival, their favorite scene. During that fight Robben sent the ball high and Sneijder gave Iraizoz another work out.
For Athletic it was a matter of heads or tails and in five minutes had paid the price for the fighting spirit displayed prior to the break. Tails, of course. In the 73rd minute Salgado tripped up Yeste and this was settled with a second yellow card taken straight from the manual putting an end to the dream of the just. However Amorebieta’s tackle of Higuain in the 77th minute resulted in the centre-back making his way to the showers and is now obliged to take a rest and won’t play against Recreativo de Huelva. In an attempt to prop up the white’s control over the match Diarra was sent in to replace Sneijder.
Only a quarter of an hour left and Athletic kept on going without throwing in the towel and treated a technically superior rival as equals, with everything that this implies whilst playing with one player less. Caparrós sent Casas and Susaeta to substitute Gabilondo and Yeste. In an even more idyllic scene Higuain, who else, had the clearest goal-scoring opportunity, but his header scraped past the goalpost. Even closer was, the same post, a tremendous shot by Llorente with the right from outside the goal area in the 87th minute and in pure agony the same player asked for a penalty in the 88th, but Lady Luck was not going to smile not even at the end of the clash.
To sum up, Schuster, in addition to his new lessons of fair-play and the good manners offered after the 3-2, sent Saviola in to replace Raúl and the match ended without booty of points, the second time we’re left with only a certain doses of good sensations. With these already mentioned positive vibrations Athletic should get back on track at San Mamés and, similarly, get back that solid defence shown last season because the way out can only be found if the base is strong and cohesive.