PUN-ting ahead 10 (1-4/MAR/13) – “RIVALRIES” Edition

“HATE” is a strong word.  BUT it is one word that is regularly bandied about by sports fans when they are prodded to offer an opinion on a rival team.  The riavlries in sport are so rich it is at times difficult to tell whether fans derive greater pleasure in seeing their teams succeed or witnessing their rivals fail.  There is even an argument to be made that defeats are more tolerable if they are immediately coupled with the misfortune of a rival.  And to a certain extent the sweetness of victory has been known to be diluted once there was a “need” to accomodate the simultaneous occurance of a rival’s success.  BUT, hey there has NEVER been a nor will there EVER be, room for two teams on the same open top bus parade!  Rivalries do give an extra dimension to the experience of being a sports fan, we may possibly be lost without the ones that are long established and have been passed on from generation to generation.  Those that are based purely on close proximity and those that stem from a rival’s comparable ability to also expand their trophy cabinet at the same pace.  Then there are those petty ones that are just there conveniently for us to have some beef.  Whichever one you readily identify with, hopefully one of the ones I am highlighting this week will be close enough to home for you to admit that they are indeed some of the ones you Love to “HATE”!

FOOTY

LA LIGA:-

  Real Madrid -v- Barcelona  

El Clasico, a meeting of two of (if not the top two) the worlds biggest football (if not outright sporting) teams!  If ever there was a need to nominate a poster-matchup of a sporting rivalry, there would surely be very few that would square up to El Clasico, as the tie pitting Real Madrid against Barcelona, is commonly referred to.  It is the most followed club footy match….( pardon my urge to include Jeremy Clarkson’s voice here)… “in the WOOORLD!” It is a rivalry that has nothing to do with proximity, beyond the fact that both teams are situated in Spain (whisper that fact though, as the Catalans may not readily agree to it).  FC Barcelona regularly regard themselves as being “more than a football club”, perhaps a little refresher would help to explain what makes this tie, More-than-just-a-football-match!

  • Barcelona & Madrid are Spain’s two largest cities.
  • Both teams have NEVER been relegated from the Spanish Primera Liga (much to the chagrin of either club surely).  Only Athletic Bilbao can boast a similar record.
  • The respective fan-bases are, in some quarters, base on political opinions. Madrid Nationalism against Barcelona’s Catalanism.
  • Barcelona lead the official trophy count with 79 (and counting), compared to Madrid’s 76 (and also counting).
  • Legend has it that Real Madrid great Alfredo Di Stefano was originally supposed to be shared by BOTH teams in alternating seasons owing to a neither team being able to prove exclusive ownership of his registration.  BUT political influence allegedly resulted in Barcelona backing down and Di Stefano becoming a world footy legend in the colours of Los Blancos.  Alfredo had the cheek to score a brace in his 1st El Clasico against Barca!
  • Recent inter-club transfers have not gone on too well either.  The political hand may not have been played this time BUT a pig’s head was thrown at Luis Figo when he returned to Barcelona in his 1st match as a Madrid player.  BUT Luis Enrique’s switch to Barcelona was initially met with the requisite uproar before he was eventually “allowed” to not only captain Barcelona (with some distinction) BUT to even mould the future of FC Barcelona by coaching the youth team!
  • So clearly it isn’t always an ill-tempered affair.  The tradition of the Pasillio has been introduced in recent times where one team is given the guard of honor by the other team, once the former clinches the La Liga trophy before El Clásico takes place.  On very rare occasions the Clasico has born witness to a  dazzling individual performance resulting in a spontaneous standing ovation,….. being given to a Barcelona player, …. by Madridistas, …. in Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabau stadium.  Diego Maradona and Ronaldinho are the only players to have been “victims” of this outpouring of “LOVE”.
  • Then there’s the whole “personal feud” between Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Real Madrid’s Christiano Ronaldo!

NB** Above stats as per wikipedia.

So hopefully that puts today’s latest El Clasico instalment into a proper context, BUT for those that need a bit more info on how today’s encounter may go, well the next section should suffice.

PUN-dit Pointers

  • Real Madrid have won 10 of their last 11 home matches & are undefeated in their last 24 home matches in La Liga.
  • Real Madrid have scored at least 2 goals in 6 of their last 7 matches against Barcelona in all competitions.
  • Madrid’s Christiano Ronaldo is on a record extending 7 match consecutive El Clasico scoring run.  His brace in a “surprise” 3-1 victory over Barcelona (their biggest victory at Camp Nou since a 5-1 success in January 1963) in the Copa del Rey semi final this past Tuesday, increased his goal haul in that run to 912 overall)
  • Barcelona have won just three of their last seven matches in all competitions (W3, D2, L2).
  • Barcelona have won 16 of their last 18 matches in La Liga.
  • Barcelona’s Lionel Messi’s 17 El Clasico goal haul is one shy of the record held by…… you guessed it, fellow Argentine, Di Stafano!
  • Lionel Messi has scored in a record 15 successive Liga matches.
  • Barcelona have now conceded in 12 consecutive matches in all competitions. They have let in 19 goals during that run.
  • The Blaugrana have recorded only one victory in their last seven encounters against Madrid (W1, D3, L3).

NB* most stats as per www.bbc.co.uk/sport; www.goal.com; www.espnfc.com; www.whoscored.com

This match appears to be one that has little else to play for than mere pride.  Barcelona come to Madrid with a 16 point lead over Real Madrid (BUT will still not get a Pasillio….. NO!, it aint coz Jose’ wont give them one, it’s just because even with that advantage they still have not won La Liga).  Madrid will most likely “rest” a lot of the players they expect to use for their “higher priority” Champion’s League match against Manchester United on Tuesday night.  So not much to play for to settle this beef & with seemingly only pride at steak it still has enough in it to demand our attention.

And that attention will be rewarded with a result that most of you will Love to “HATE” …. I am PUNting a MULTI-SCORE DRAW!

QUICK-PUNts (of smaller Tifs)

  1.  Tottenham Hotspur -v- The Arsenal (EPL):-   This rivalry is most certainly based on proximity as the familiarity of London has over the years bred a healthy contempt.  Arsene Wenger may have drawn some curious looks from some Gunners fans for his proclamations of qualification for the Champions’ League is as good as winning a trophy, BUT some of those very same fans would gladly rank any final log standing that is above Spurs just as highly.  So a win for the 5th placed Arsenal would be gratifying on several levels for them.   3rd placed Spurs’ ambitions may be aimed at finishing 2nd BUT even if that is to materialise, it would be an achievement that would be more gratifying if it came via a thumping of The Arsenal. Particularly if such a win ultimately “helped” Wenger’s Boys to fail to qualify for Champions’ League for the 1st time under Wenger!  Then there is the slight issue of wanting to avenge the back-to-back 5-2 defeats that Spurs have had to stomach recently.  This is an encounter that has even had accusations of food poisoning being used as a win securing tactic in the past.  No LOVE lost? You bet!!  Gooners may have to contend with yet another distasteful celebration from Adebayor if AVB’s lads secure a result that matches my PUNt for a NARROW SPURS WIN!!
  2.  AC Milan -v- Lazio (Serie A):- Inter Milan are the eternal rivals of AC Milan so it’s fair to say that this Lazio one is just a rivalry of convenience.  Milan, in 4th place, are 2 points behind Lazio, who conveniently occupy the 3rd and last Champion’s League slot.  For a team that was not realistically expecting to be back in Champions’ League qualification contention so early in their “re-building” phase, Milan will be gleefully rubbing their hands in anticipation of seizing the chance to leapfrog into 3rd.  AC Milan are undefeated in 10 of their last 11 home matches against Lazio in all competitions.  I fully expect them to extend that stat and fulfil my PUNt for a MILAN WIN, which will also see them clinching a 7th straight Serie A home win.
  3. Manchester United -v- Norwich City (EPL):- Can surely only be categorised as a “rivalry” of inconvenience!  Allow me to explain. Everton, Wigan and Norwich have all recently conspired to derail Manchester United’s attempts to win their 20th English League title.  United have then gone on to exact a measure of revenge over these inconvenient rivals by beating them this season.  Norwich City, however are still to take their medicine, having beaten United 1-NIL in the reverse fixture.  United hold the longest current undefeated league run in any of the top 5 European leagues (15 matches), while Norwich’s record that has seen them fail  to win 14 of their last 15 away matches in the Premier League leads me to PUNt a WIN FOR MANCHESTER UNITED.  If that result materializes it will be difficult to tell whether the resultant United grins will be from “swallowing” the Canaries or simply coz of doing so with an expected rotated squad which allows them to welcome Real Madrid in the relative comfort of a potential 15 point gap over their Noisy Oily Rival Neighbours!
  4. Chelsea -v- Rafa Benitez (EPL):-  Yup you read it correctly I said Chelsea -v- Gaffer Rafa!  After another sensational bout of Rafa Rants, it is hard to see whether Chelsea fans will find any motivation to rather aim their abuse at West Bromwich Albion (their actual EPL opposition this week).  If John Terry’s use of the word “untenable” was perhaps a bit overboard, when describing his relationship with The FA before handing in the England captain’s armband, then surely it is now a more accurate way to describe the situation that Gaffer Rafa has now dug himself into.  One can only guess what his motivation to stir the “beef” pot was, BUT he may have just been attempting to cushion himself from an imminent fall from The Bridge, considering that his immediate predecessors were both pushed off The Bridge after losses against The Baggies of West Brom.  I don’t expect Rafa to be the latest addition of Chelsea gaffers to have not-so-fond memories of The Baggies, which is why I will PUNt a VICTORY FOR CHELSEA & RAFA!!  One which will for now help Benitez to Keep some fans close, and a top two RIVAL even closer!!
  5. The Sharks -v- Stormers (Super Rugby):-  The Sharks beat The Stormers in last year’s Super Rugby semi-final and took the finals berth that the Stormers believed they deserved, having topped the preceding group standings.  That defeat did not only deny the Stormers a final appearance, BUT one they would have hosted too!  A semblance of revenge was then exacted in the Final of the Currie Cup when a “less experienced” Western Province (Yup different name BUT trust me it’s the same team) beat the Sharks to end their decade of trophy misery.  So here we are again with The Sharks aiming to make it 3 straight Super Rugby wins over the Stormers.  I, however, am PUNting otherwise, as I believe that the returning players will just do enough to help secure a NARROW STORMERS WIN BY NO MORE THAN 4 POINTS!!  It may be sea food, BUT there will be enough Beef at The Shark Tank for those in Durban to Feel The Vengeful Storm!

  NB** stats as per www.goal.com and www.whoscored.com and www.superxv.com

There will be time enough to bury the hatchet, BUT I sincerely doubt that that will happen any time soon for the aforementioned teams.  There is some business to take care of, the motivational speeches will be short, everyone knows what needs to be done, and should some of these results go south, a few rivalries of inconvenience may just become a bit meatier than that.  So what is your beef? I most certainly hope that it is not with me, BUT just in case it is, please …….pardonthePUN-dit! 

Be blessed …. and ….Be Great!

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