Friday, January 16, 2009

Messi at the Camp Nou

I hear he sang a good song, I heard he had a style
And so I came to see him, and listen for a while
And there he was, this young boy, a stranger to my heart

Strumming my pain with his fingers
Singing my life with his words
Killing me softly, with his song
Telling my whole life with his words
Killing me softly, with his songs. 

- Killing Me Softly, The Fugees

The first time the great man appeared, he was wearing a bright orange vest and chocolate brown leggings. As he trotted out over the sideline, the crowd began applauding. As he started warming up, the crowd started chanting with a feverish longing. The game was suddenly unimportant, and we were all in a state of suspense. 

It was the 60th minute, the score was 1-1, and Leo Messi was preparing to enter the game. 

Until that point, it had been a nothing game in a nothing cup competition. It was the second leg of the Copa Del Rey tie, the first having been 3-1 won by Barcelona a week ago. The tie was pretty much concluded before the match had begun, and both teams approached it in that manner. Barcelona fielded their second-string side and both teams kicked it around in a lazy fashion. 

There's something magical about the Camp Nou on a winter's night. We were sitting on the edge of the highest tier, right by the corner flag. The ground was floodlight, the crowd buzzed beneath us, the players moved with slow precision - it was like being in a really, really chilly dream. 

It was a good thing it's so atmospheric, because the game was crap. 

I have fond memories of the Valencia-Villareal. It was blood-and-guts running and attacking and skilful play for 90 minutes. It was probably the best game I've seen. Barca-Atletico was a couple of teams kicking it around and trying not to get injured. But still, there's something about watching Barcelona play. They have a mystique about them, coming down in an unbroken line from Cryuff to Strichov, to Rivaldo and Figo and Ronaldinho, and now, to Lionel Messi. 

Messi got onto the pitch in the 76th minute. He's the best player in the world, and it showed. Immediately Barcelona perked up. The passing was crisper, the play more purposeful, and the team started playing the way only Barca knows. Messi made a couple of great runs, and it was just amazing to see the guy in action. 

I've just had a glance at the match reviews in the newspaper blogs, and they're all raving about a good game with plenty of attacking moves and two skilful, free-flowing sides. And I'm wondering if I watched the same game? Or maybe, I'd been just so intent on seeing Messi that I overlooked some pretty good football in its own right? 

2-1 to Barcelona. 

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