The crowd were on their feet. There was a noticeable sense of anticipation in the air, a welcome tension of sorts building to a crescendo. The ominous thud of a drum thundered around the Camp Nou, the perfect complement to the scenes unfolding before our very eyes. Barcelona were preparing to put this game beyond reach and secure an important three points; Neymar was the man entrusted with the responsibility...
All that build-up, the mounting tension, the supporters waiting for that sweet release...
Neymar had missed.
This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to travel back to Barcelona to catch their latest La Liga match -- an eventual 2-1 win over Las Palmas. If memory serves, it was my sixth Barça match overall, and fifth in the past 12 months. It also marked the first occasion in which I wasn't travelling for one of the "Gala" fixtures. This wasn't a showdown with Atleti or Valencia, nor was it a UEFA Champions League clash with Manchester City -- and it certainly wasn't a Clasico.
Nope, this was a casual weekend fixture with newly-promoted Las Palmas, and I was expecting a glut of goals -- particularly following last week's loss to Celta Vigo. And of course, the result is all that matters -- but the match and the weekend as a whole left me feeling rather ambivalent.
The sense of relief at witnessing a win was palpable, especially when combined with Real's shock goalless draw with Malaga CF. However, how could one truly feel happy for the victory when it was juxtaposed against the early events in the match, which saw the greatest player of all time head for a spell on the injury list...
News of the severity of Messi's injury had not yet saturated the stadium, although the uncertainty surrounding our star man coupled with a rather flat performance had all but killed the mood inside the Camp Nou. A small minority of Las Palmas supporters had made the lengthy trip from Gran Canaria and perched high in the rafters, their vociferous support finally managed to rile a response from a similar, outspoken minority of the 74,500 Cules in attendance...
Dale dale Barça;
Te sigo los partidos yo te quiero;
Vamos a dar la vuelta a todo el mundo;
Hay que ponerle un poco más de huevos, más de huevos
Eso que dice la gente;
Que somos borrachos, vagos, delincuentes;
Yo no les hago caso, estoy acostumbrado;
Hay que vivir nuestro tiempo dorado
While the sun may have been shining down on the Camp Nou and on the Blaugrana, it had been evident from the opening whistle that lady luck was not -- perhaps as a consequence of my own presence. Messi's injury and the penalty miss threatened to be merely the tip of iceberg as a fortuitous deflection left Marc-Andre ter Stegen wrong-footed and sent Jonathan Viera's timid effort into the back of the net. For a brief moment, the comeback appeared to be on as the visitors surged forward in search of an unlikely and undeserved equaliser.
After spending the majority of the half gently mocking the travelling contingent of supporters who were segregated some 40 metres above, the boisterous (choice of wording: intentional) Barca fans situated to my left became anxious, celebrating each challenge, clearance and block as if it were a goal. Particular applause and praise was reserved for ter Stegen in particular, and his graceful handling of the final few minutes.
3 Stray Observations
3) Barca goal record with me in attendance -- Format = Name (Goals / Appearances)
Suarez (6 goals / 5 apps)
Messi (2 goals / 6 apps)
Neymar (2 goals / 5 apps)
Sanchez (1 goal / 1 app)
The early afternoon kick-off is growing on me, I must admit -- the Camp Nou and the spectacle of watching the Blaugrana in action really does lend itself well to the sunshine in Catalunya, but they do rob me of a responsible way to spend my evenings. Mercifully, the Palau Blaugrana was open for business too -- and the day of sport could continue with...handball?
As an Englishman, the majority of the sport of handball is pretty much foreign to me, although the basic premise is of course easy enough to understand. And as a die-hard Barça fan, I was aware of our club's reputation in the sport; FC Barcelona Lassa are the reigning, defending European Champions and despite the loss of Nikola Karabatic this past summer, the Blaugrana are considered amongst the contenders to retain their European crown this season too.
And at €9 a ticket, I was sold.
The frenetic tempo of the opening stages had me hooked, and the element of strategy was intriguing too. It was my first time in the Palau, and as a keen basketball fan, I was pleased to hear just how impressive the acoustics are in the venue, particularly as the match drew to a close.
Barcelona rebounded back from their opening group stage defeat to claim the win against IFK Kristianstad, with captain Victor Tomas coming up big down the stretch.
3 Stray Observations
Sunday, and my attentions turned to Barcelona B as Jordi Vinyals' side prepared to take on Hercules CF, the very same Hercules CF that upset the odds to claim a famous 0-2 victory at the Camp Nou back in 2010. This time, Los Blanquiazules were about 250m to the west, playing in the Mini Estadi to a sparse crowd in the Segunda B.
No longer could their squad boast the likes of David Trezeguet and Nelson Haedo Valdez, but former Real Madrid striker Javi Portillo remained, and this time started in attack while club captain, Paco Pena slotted in a left-back, just as he did back in 2010.
From the start, there was a clear and apparent lack of cutting edge to either side's attack. Perhaps from a Barça perspective, that is to be expected when your best players are operating at full-back and as a pivote. In general, there was a lack of cohesion to the Barcelona play -- they're supposed to be the smaller brother, or child of the senior team. Instead, they played like they were Barcelona's distant third cousin.
It probably sums up the whole encounter when I say that the event that prompted the most response from the crowd was spotting Munir driving away in his Audi after the match...
3 Stray Observations
See you again for Rayo...