1/06/11 Levante v. Real Madrid 2nd Leg Copa del Rey-Round of 16
I’m fond of making poorly constructed declarative statements oozing with emphasis and vigor, only to have said statements often blow-up and backfire spectacularly in the vicinity of my face. Yesterday I actually said out loud to my wife, who couldn’t have cared less anyway, that, even in the glorious midst of my current soccer obsession and even though Ray Hudson was doing commentary, I didn’t think I could watch the rest of this match. I was referring, of course, to the waning, scoreless first-half dregs of the 2nd leg of the Levante/Real Madrid Round of 16 Copa del Rey tie. Somewhere amidst the hazy Bushmill blur of the holidays, I’d noticed that Madrid had decimated and destroyed Levante 8-0 in the 1st leg of this tie at the Bernabeu. Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema both had hat tricks in that match and the referee actually decided, mercilessly, to forgo the addition of any stoppage time. This elimination of stoppage time was a first for me; as well as a fairly explicit indication of the depth and breadth of the asskicking Madrid laid on this game but outgunned Levante side.
My neophyte American brain is still amazed by and enamored with the tie framework and aggregate scoring concept employed in many European soccer competitions, such as the Copa del Rey. It’s very hard for Americans to fathom, initially, the idea that who wins or loses a match is basically irrelevant (unless, indeed, you win said match 8-0). I love the idea that in a tie each team is given a chance to play in their home stadium and that what ultimately matters is total number of goals scored by a side over the course of tie. No rubbish Roberto Mancini at Emirates Stadium 10 men in defense tactics can be utilized if you lose the first match, say 2-0.
How could this possibly be interesting? To recap, Levante needed to score 9 goals to win this tie and advance to the Quarterfinals. Madrid sat most of their stars, including one of my favorite players, Mesut Ozil. These were the major reasons behind my professed inability to watch the match. As the second half got underway and I decided that one more second of any ESPN, or MSNBC ‘personality’ would send me into fits of homicidal rage, I started watching as Levante played with pace and gathering intensity. Levante needed to salvage some semblance of pride because they play, for now, in La Liga with Madrid and the sharpness of their play reflected this awareness. I was also curious to see how Sami Khedira played, as rumors and reports of Jose Mourinho’s unhappiness with his form gathered in strength, vehemence and volume. I don’t believe Khedira did anything during this match to change Mourinho’s mind. At least he didn’t prompt the great Ray Hudson to say he needed a “spotlight to find him on the pitch” like he did during the latest version of El Clasico this past November.
Kaka’s introduction near the hour mark also added an extra dose of excitement and he ended up having Madrid’s best scoring opportunity of the entire match, a nicely taken header that banged off the crossbar around the 82nd minute. I loved Kaka’s form in the World Cup playing with Luis Fabiano and Robinho. He’s certainly an exciting player. It was good to see him back, even though it was evident he has a way to go before reaching full match fitness. Levante played hard and with better pace and purpose than a Madrid side filled with players granted an opportunity to impress, but who mostly failed to do so. Levante were granted a penalty thanks to a handball in the area, a chance they converted with relish to make it 1-0, much to the smirking chagrin of “the Special One.” The goal turned the stadium into a cauldron swelled with pride, picking the Levante players up even further. One supporter held a sign that screamed “9-0 ??” Sergio curled in a gorgeous,“magisterial” in the words of my adopted godfather Ray Hudson, free-kick to raise Levante’s lead to 2-0. It was all compelling in its own unique way. I love how soccer matches such as this can invent their own unique narrative arcs. I know of no other sport where a match essentially turned into an exhibition can create and sustain its own wholly unique and compelling momentum. But of course Madrid will advance to the Quarterfinals on the strength of their clinical, Belichickian 8-0 thrashing.
12-22-10 1st Leg Real Madrid v. Levante 8-0
1-6-11 2nd Leg Levante v. Real Madrid 2-0
Real Madrid wins the tie 8-2 on aggregate.