Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Oh Captain, My Captain

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;

Rise up--for you the flag is flung for you the bugle trills,

For you bouquets and ribboned wreaths for you the shores a-crowding,

For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

from 'O Captain, My Captain' by Walt Whitman

Thus it was Raul who emerged the hero from last night’s encounter with Werder Bremen. The legendary white captain, scored his 57th goal in the Champions League (a record) in 111 games (a Real Madrid record) and provided the final pass that led to Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s game winning (and 50th Champions League Goal, I think he’s either 2nd or 3rd to Raul… Shevchenko is either 2nd / 3rd ) goal. He ran his socks off too: 9,402 meters of ground covered in his 83+ minutes on the pitch: Clearly a Man-of-the-Match performance. He was all over; harassing defenders, running at them (with a few nifty ball tricks too), helping out distribute the ball and keep the ebb and flow of Real’s Game. I said in my last entry that I was hoping he’d be in-form: 3 goals in 4 matches…he is!

It’s an odd thing actually, I remember my first encounter of his name as a player: during the 2002 World Cup, when a younger cousin of mine who happens to be an avid fan of football (and a player himself) told me about a young Spaniard named Raul. At the time, he was still considered about to break into his peak but already having broken countless records: the future of Spanish football. It was a future I never got to see as his goal scoring numbers took a nose-dive as Florentino Perez’s ‘Galaticos’ era went along. I suspect that it’s a combination of a real drop in form as well as the fact that he was moved out of his best position: Second Striker. Thus, for the most part of my time as a Real Madrid fan, Raul was the falling symbol: the man they insisted to be the club’s talisman, but no longer for his ability on the pitch, but for what he symbolized: the local boy turned hero. I scratched my head at the thought of it… but I never questioned the effort he put on the pitch. This season, he seems to be yelling out to the world ‘I’m back!’…. after 4 games, it’s hard to tell, but the signs are promising.

Other Reflections on the match:
Real Madrid may have only won by a goal…. But they clearly played pretty well. Their passing game was fluid and seamless at times, ball movement and buildup play was good too. They attacked through the wings, created danger and were able to drill holes into the Bremen defense (though it took a while to tear them down). They were however a bit shaky on defense at times (though Cannavaro had some good moments too)… but that happens when you play against a team is run by a player with the quality of Diego.

On the players:

Ruud Van Nistelrooy
He is clearly not yet 100%. Given the chances he got last night, last year’s RVN would’ve nailed a Hat Trick and instead of the world hailing Werder Bremen’s gallant stand against the whites, they’d all be talking about rout. If he regains his sharpness, and Raul’s form proves to be consistent, defenses will crumble and titles will come again!

Gonzalo Higuain
Robinho had better watch out, because it’s very likely that he can lose his place in the starting XI to this guy. The kid is only 19, but plays with a kind of maturity and awareness rarely found in players his age. Last night, he was tireless on the pitch… but once again, forgot to lace up his shooting boots before the match. Then again, Robinho was only firing goalkeeping-practice-type shots during his stint last night.

Fernando Gago
The Spanish Press weren’t very kind to him in their post-game analyses today, giving him stick for failing to stop Diego… but that’s like asking someone to stop Kaka or Ronaldinho, it’s not exactly something everyone can do (Diarra would have sent him to the ground with a couple of clattering tackles, but I’m doubtful that would’ve been enough to stop Diego). But I thought that Gago played pretty well: the midfield engine was far more well-oiled with him on as opposed to Diarra (then again that was never really Diarra’s role). I really felt that the ball movement and ‘verticality’ of team was much more slick with him around. I think Real has great options in this position with Gago as a great midfield facilitator or Diarra as a destroyer for the other side’s buildup play.

I felt bad for him upon hearing that he was going to lose his spot to Drenthe and Heinze. He was after all, hailed as the ‘next Roberto Carlos.’ While Drenthe clearly isn’t a Left Back (at this point I’ve no idea what he is), Heinze sure as hell ain’t a left back in the Roberto Carlos-mould. Last night, Marcelo’s forays along the flanks, darting forward to cross balls and create danger delightfully reminded me of the short, bald, Brazilian who wore RM’s ‘3’ last year. When he lost the ball on the attack and left an ocean of space for an opposition counter attack, he reminded me of Roberto Carlos too…. But not the delightful side of course. Once again, Real find 2 quality options here: a hard tackling, combative, defensive-minded left back (Heinze) and a left footed speed demon along the left flank. I’m happy he didn’t end up loaned to some border-line 1st division team and even happier that he made a strong case for a spot on the team last night.

Iker Casillas
He might’ve been able to do better when the Bremen goal was conceded, but he made some critical saves that in the end, gave RM the victory…. While people are all talking an toasting to RM’s re-birth as an attack-minded team, I refuse to forget the man who has saved Real’s skin in more than many occasions.

We visit Real Valladolid on Sunday… I’m keeping my fingers crossed in hopes of another 3 points, and god-willing another shower of goals against the opponent.

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