Barcelona 0 Athletic Club 0FC Barcelona and Athletic Club reached a nil-all draw at Camp…
Barcelona 0 Athletic Club 0
FC Barcelona and Athletic Club reached a nil-all draw at Camp Nou and so the elimination round will be determined in January at San Mamés. Our team did a great job in defence to remain alive in the elimination round against a team that have tallied up match victories with goals by the mile.
To affront this elimination round match against the favourite par excellence, that is against FC Barcelona, our squad stepped on to a wet Camp Nou pitch with a 4-4-1-1 format. Iraola had a trial run one hour earlier and at that moment it was decided that he was fit enough to play, resulting in the most noteworthy novelties in the line up being found up front, with Igor Martínez as the sole striker and with Iturraspe behind him. At the back, two well-defined lines of four in an attempt to put the brakes on a team that runs on goals, needless to say they have scored in each and every one of their last twenty-two matches and, especially over the last couple of weeks, have scored a significant number of goals accompanied with a hard to match quality game, above, that of the average team.
On the FC Barcelona bench, among others, the presence of Messi and Villa stood out, however, checking out the starting line up was enough to deny that those who had stepped onto the field prior to the kick-off had anything to do with a team of substitutes or eleven players with no assurances. If you want gifts the Olentzero is just around the corner.
What’s more, as the match evolved it was demonstrated, if there were any doubts, that the hosts had taken on this match as a new challenge to overcome. And as football is like this, the expedition departed from Bilbao to battle it out against, in accordance with some of the comments that could be heard or read, “the unbeatable team”, “the best team in the world” or “the best team in history”. Upon seeing the evolution of the match, it’s also not strange that, depending where, that comments are made about the rival team having a bad day or a sudden slackening off. The usual.
Way beyond the subjective opinions, the team’s aim was to keep the eliminatory alive so that this round could be determined at San Mamés and to round off the second part of the feat, the most difficult part.
Just as it had been predicted, Barça monopolized the ball from the first whistle blow to the very last. Nothing new at the football Olympus. Nevertheless, our team’s solid defence reduced the number of goal-scoring opportunities on behalf of Guardiola’s troop to unknown limits.
Bojan took a shot at goal in the 6th minute, but Iraizoz caught the ball and, at the same time, took firmly the first step towards topping off a good night. The ball only circulated in one direction, nothing new, but almost always horizontally. So much so that the clearest goal-scoring opportunity of the match, especially because it was one of the few where the ball got past the three posts, did not arrive until the 25th minute when Iniesta fired away from outside the area, but Iraizoz cleared this to corner with the tip of his fingers. Then the corner kick was taken and Piqué finished it off with a header that sailed over the crossbar. Once more Iniesta tried his luck in the 29th minute, resulting in another corner following the goalie’s clearance.
Soon afterwards Athletic gave some warning signs, very timid ones, but at least the ball was on the opposite side of the Red-White goalmouth. Iturraspe did a great technical job to get rid of two rivals, but his deep pass to Igor Martínez was too long. Once again Iturraspe was unable to finish off a foul kick forcefully and the ball ended up in Pinto’s hands. Javi Martínez was the first to get a booking, an unavoidable price to be paid in a match like today’s, while we were left with the bitter aftertaste due to the referee who, as well as letting the game go ahead with quite good criterion, did not know how to apply the same criterion when handing out cautions.
The threat to come, perhaps the most lethal of all, after all it was not a day for fancy trimmings, was a shoot at goal taken by Gurpegi while close to the first post following the corner kick, however, the ball ended up corner once again. It was the 36th minute and up until the halftime break, there were no goal-scoring opportunities worth mentioning, the ball belonged to the locals, the weariness belonging mostly to the visitors and already in the changing room there was the feeling that half of the job had been done, but there’s no gain without pain, even though this was still only provisional.
Furthermore, the prediction of greater pressure to be applied by the culés in the second half was also confirmed, despite Gabilondo being close to scoring a goal as a result of Javi Martínez’s pass to the centre. With almost no time left for regrets Xavi took a deviated shot at goal with everything in his favour, whilst Guardiola decided that it was time to change gear and in the 53rd minute he sent Messi in to take Keita’s place. Two minutes later Muniain stepped in for Igor Martínez and, adding more fuel to the flame, Villa replaced Bojan. Now in the 73rd minute Orbaiz substituted Iturraspe.
During all this time the goal-scoring opportunities were few and far between, nonetheless, Barcelona, who were increasingly more open down the wings and up front so as to move their players forward more and more, redoubled their efforts and constantly exchanged field positions. Alves got even more motivated by the presence of Messi, but all their attempts were in vain.
Time ticked on more slowly than desired and our rivals were piling on the pressure, but without sinking us. Xavi put Iraizoz’s positioning to the test and in the 78th minute Villa missed. As though this were not enough, Guardiola sent another winger in, Adriano, who took Mascherano’s spot. With so many attacking players, so many wingers and so much pressure it’s not strange that Piqué was the centre forward at times and that the next goal-scoring opportunity was his in the 88th minute, but his left shot at goal went astray.
Mission accomplished, which was not to get our hands on the Golden Ball Award, but to try to exploit each and every one of the resources within our reach in order to have the possibility of eliminating a rival in spite of the predictions and both team’s previous track records, but now there’s still the match at San Mamés, but let no one think that this is going to be easier than the first. There’s still a further step to be taken, the qualification for the quarter-finals, however, now it’s time for the 2nd leg match with the warmth of playing at home, and the time has also come for some well-deserved mini-holidays over Christmas and what’s more we will be starting the new year (2011) with a new timetable for a trial period so that we can become more well-known in Asia.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!