Thursday, October 25, 2007

CL Wrap: The Return of Capello's Boys

Real Madrid downed Olympiakos 4-2 on Wednesday night, seemingly with same spirit (and good fortunes) that marked the 2007 La Liga title.

Madrid got off to a great start, with Raul knocking in the 1-0 in the 2nd minute of play.

Things were looking good, as the team had momentum in front of their home crowd, and an early lead to build on.

That's when everything went wrong. Olympiakos equalized in the 7th minute, and then had Vassilas Torosidis sent off in the 13th. I assumed that meant that Madrid would go ahead and win handily, taking advantage of the extra man.

Instead, Madrid played the same sort of ugly, fruitless football that plagued them for stretches of last season and this season. They allowed Olympiakos to go up 2-1 on a Julio C├ęsar free kick deflection, along the way exposing a shaky defense ravaged by injury.

Sergio Ramos, usually a key component to the offense with his explosive runs up the flank, was shifted into the center of defense. He wasn't able to support the attack as he would have liked, and it was little-used Michel Salgado who was bombing up the wing, without any success.

The team continued to play some awful football, unable to put up much of an offensive attack until Robinho headed home the equalizer in the 68th.

Robinho energized the squad, and they started to play some exciting, attacking football. The midfield came alive, and in the blink of an eye, Guti, Sneijder, and Gago were delivering gorgeous long-range passes to the wingers. Robinho, enjoying this support from the midfield engine, later scored the 3-2 in the 83rd.

The fun was just beginning, as Madrid had to withstand a wave of dangerous attacks from the 10-man Olympiakos squad. Iker Casillas made some absolutely incredible saves, drawing a deafening ovation from the Madrid fans at the Bernabeu.

It was the kind of nervous excitement Real Madrid fans came to expect towards the end of the 2006-2007 league run under Fabio Capello. I can't lie, it was absolutely breathtaking football. Occasionally beautiful, sometimes hideous, but always with an entertaining finish.

Javier Balboa, who replaced Wesley Sneijder in the 82nd, scored the 4-2 and secured the victory in the 90th.

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