IT’S that time of year for the football-speaking world as the end of season crowds gather. The reigning season.
Let me draw your attention to the big ones. The title-deciders I was asked to talk about on South Africa’s eNews channel this morning, with Mr William Lehong and his perfect suit. El Classico at the Nou Camp, the self-styled Eish Clasico in Soweto and the Sir Al Clasico in Manchester.
Let us for a moment skip past the Champions League semi-finals, difficult though that is. Real Madrid go to Bayern Munich tomorrow night in an attempt to stop the Germans, currently second to Dortmund in the Bundesliga, from engineering a home final in May.
On Wednesday, Barcelona are off to London, where Chelsea at Stamford Bridge may be a stumbling point. Unfortunately, the Blues are coming off the back of an excruciating 5-1 win over Spurs, with Drogba, Lampard, Ramirez and Malouda joining referee Martin Atkinson on the scoresheet in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. The Nou Camp could be disastrous for Roberto di Matteo.
Few would bet against an all-Spanish Champions League final, but for both the La Liga giants, Europe pales into insignificance on Saturday, when Jose Mourinho’s all-whites travel to the heart of Catlunia and the blue-and-red Nou Camp.
Has there ever been a bigger El Clasico? With Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi both breaking the all-time La Liga scoring record of the weekend – they’re locked on 41 each – the stage is set for something extraordinary.
I’ve spent most of today writing for The New Age about this extraordinarily odd couple. Modest, unassuming Messi, 24, with his growth hormones and crap hairstyle against flashy, sports car-crashing Ronaldo, 27.
And on the sidelines, the relatively sane Pep Guardiola versus the madness that is Jose Mourinho, who recently missed his 45th pre-match press conference (the Spaniards count these things).
But before that little lot, we’ve got South Africa’s own title showdown: champions Orlando Pirates, holders of all the nation’s domestic trophies, against upstarts Moroka Swallows in Dobsonville.
Soweto’s oldest derby comes at an intriguing time. Eish. Gordon Igesund has turned the Dube Birds from relegation fodder into title contenders in just over a year. Peruvian caretaker Augusto Palacios has taken over from Brazilian Julio Leal with surprising aplomb in Orlando. A win over the Buccaneers, unlikely though it may seems, would put Swallows within a point of the lead.
With the ancient Siyabonga Nomvete, the SAPL’s top scorer, up against the bang-from-suspension Benni McCarthy, it’s not quite Messi v Ronaldo, but it’ll do for us!
And then, on May 30, the English showdown of note. Manchester United travel to Eastlands, Manchester City’s home at the Commonwealth Games Stadium.
After their glitch against Wigan, United bounced back with a 4-0 destruction of a pitiful Aston Villa on Sunday. Wayne Rooney, subbed and chastised against Wigan, scored twice. Ashley Young did one of his gold medal winning dives. Sir Alex chewed gum and admitted Young “might have overdone it”.
City meanwhile, are on a roll with Mario Balotelli suspended. Carlos Tevez, a footballing slave I have always defended, scored a hat-trick in their 6-1 win over Norwich. I guess the former United striker would love a couple more where they came from against Sir Alex.
Sir Alex said after the weekend’s fun and games: “We’ve got a nice healthy lead, but the derby is bound to have an impact on the the eventual winners.”
In Spain, the gap is four points. In South Africa, it’s the same. In England, it’s five.
These are the three big ones, El Clasico, Soweto’s oldest derby and the Manchester showdown. My picks? Real Madrid to get at last a point at the Nou Camp, Swallows to stun the Buccaneers, City to edge United at home. But the title winners? Jose Mourinho, Gordon Igesund… and, yet again, Sir Alex Ferguson.
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