For 90 minutes, the world stopped. More so when Gareth Bale leaped head and shoulder above Jordi Alba to connect with a Ronaldo cross. For all his athleticism and all-action play, the Spaniard was no match for the Flying Welshman. The only question was if the world’s most expensive player can direct his header on target; Claudio Bravo would be no match for it. He did. It’s 1-2 at Camp Nou.
But the linesman thought otherwise.
For a moment, people were searching for a hint of offside. Bale as onside from all angles. Ah it was a foul, the referee confirmed this with his linesman.
It was a cruel. It was not the night for the men in white.
And a few minutes later, this was confirmed.
Sergio Ramos, the captain and most experienced player of the team, forgot how to play intelligently and made a pointless tackle on Luis Suarez far from goal. The referee had no choice. He was lenient on his previous infractions. It was a second yellow card.
Ramos had to go off. And along with him, possibly Real Madrid’s title challenge, or what was left of it. At the touchline, Zinedine Zidane could see his contract not extended. In a bizarre move (or non-movement), he did not bring in a center-back replacement. It could mean sacrificing Bale for Nacho.
Zidane was going for the win. A draw could leave them still trailing Barcelona by nine points with seven games remaining. It was now or never.
With 10 men, how could they beat a team that humiliated them at home 0-4 even if they still had 11 players?
Three minutes later, Real Madrid were on a counter. Bale was fed a through ball to the right and he crossed it first time with his right. Before, he would insist on crossing with his favoured left. But he had improved. It’s time he teach James to do the same also.
On the receiving end was the second most expensive player, Ronaldo towering over the back-pedalling Dani Alves. He could have directed the ball first time towards the goal. But the angle was tight. He knows better. He chested it down to create space and bamboozled Bravo’s far post.
There’s no denying this time. It was no offside. It was no foul. It was a goal. And Real Madrid is a goal up vs their eternal rival with 15 minutes remaining. And if the gossip columns are true, this could be the last 15 minutes of Ronaldo in Camp Nou as a Real Madrid player. PSG, and the Parisian nightlife, is waiting in the wings for him.
But for tonight, Ronaldo had silenced his detractors. True he is no longer the speed machine on full throttle trying to take on defenders with his pace and power. Now, he relies on position and precision. He knows where the back of the net is.
And Zidane prove his doubters wrong. He has a gameplan. He had balls. He stuck with Casemiro as defensive cover rather than playing the more popular James or Isco. Casemiro does not provide beautiful football, but he brings in defensive solidity in front of the world’s most vaunted attacking strikeforce – the South Americans MSN in Messi, Suarez, and Neymar.
And Bale showed that he is big game winner. He can be frustrating at times, but when he is in full flight, he is a joy to watch. And if he can keep making crosses with his right foot, Benzema and Ronaldo will be very glad to direct them into the goal.
But at the end of the day, Barcelona is still seven points ahead of Real Madrid (and six points ahead of Atletico Madrid). Barcelona will no doubt win the league come May.
But Ronaldo, Bale, and Zidane will not go down without giving them a hell of a fight.