Early Doors

El Clasico: The gift that keeps on giving

Early Doors

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In this age of us having the best of everything and having it on demand, it's easy to get blasé.

Try telling any teenager that there only used to be four TV channels, or that computer games were once stored on cassette tapes that took 20 minutes to load, and marvel at the baffled indifference on their face. Then explain to them what a cassette tape is, and see an intense frown added to that expression.

Just one example of this is how, over the last couple of seasons, we have been treated to far more games between bitter Spanish rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona than just their two obligatory annual league meetings.

Their clash on Thursday night in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup, for example, was the first of three meetings between the two over the next six weeks. In the two seasons prior to that, they met 11 times across four different competitions.

As the two best teams in the world, each boasting one of the two best players on the planet, there is so much hype surrounding them that you could be forgiven for suffering from Clasico fatigue.

Being on a Thursday night, the build-up to the game at the Nou Camp had a low-key feeling to it. The grumpy reception from much of Spain which has greeted the season starting earlier than usual and the introduction of 11pm kick-offs had threatened to spread to the nation's marquee fixture, with pre-match talk of a half-empty stadium for a Clasico.

Fewer than 60,000 watched Barca's opening match of the season, a 5-1 thrashing of Real Sociedad. A handsome attendance by most standards, but not at a ground far more used to being at or near its 99,000 capacity.

The Supercopa, after all, is Spain's two-legged version of the Community Shield. It's supposed to be La Liga's curtain-raiser, not something to clog the fixture list up with two extra games from the very start of the campaign. This season, La Liga kicked off so early that Barca even played their traditional pre-season Joan Gamper Trophy match the day after the Sociedad game.

But, being a Clasico, it is a fixture that always delivers something, and last night was no different. And not just a fresh slew of stats about the number of times Xavi touched the ball, Andres Iniesta completed a pass or Sergio Busquets grimaced, but real exciting football-type stuff.

Even after a reasonably stale first hour, in which the biggest points of interest were Lionel Messi missing a couple of decent chances and Alexis Sanchez attempting to take the Didier Drogba 'shot by a sniper' act to a whole new level, Cristiano Ronaldo nutted a header home for an away goal. The world's most expensive player became the third Real player to score in four successive Clasicos.

Pedro equalised just seconds after the restart from Javier Mascherano's sublime long ball. Lionel Messi then put Barca ahead from the penalty spot, ending his 432-minute wait for a goal against Real.

Messi's miss from 12 yards against Chelsea in last season's Champions League final may be one of the few blots on his copybook, but Messi has now scored five goals from the spot in his last four matches. It was also his 55th goal for club and country this year, and he is now just five shy of his personal best of 60, set in 2010.

Xavi then combined with Iniesta to make it 3-1, only for a Victor Valdes howler to allow Angel di Maria to finish into an empty net and give Real two away goals ahead of next Wednesday's second leg at the Bernabeu.

Valdes may have won the Zamora award for conceding the fewest goals in La Liga for each of the past four seasons, but this game was further proof of why Iker Casillas is the guy who always lifts the trophy when Spain win a tournament.

The first leg now has the head-to-head of one of football's biggest rivalries locked at 87 wins apiece, with 46 draws. If Barca win in the capital next week, they will take the lead in those stakes for the first time in 80 years.

But, even if they do, it will not necessarily lay down any kind of marker for Barca. After all, they won last year's Super Cup, and went on the finish second in the league as Real were crowned champions with a record haul of 100 points.

Last night's thriller proved that there are some things you simply cannot get enough of.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I don't think it's a money situation with him. He's made a lot of money over his career really and that's why I'm saying to him that I think this is the best club for him now because of the crowds and stadium. Where's he going to get anything better than this at this stage of his life? I think he's enjoying every minute and we'll see what happens." — Neil Warnock is really giving El-Hadji Diouf the big sell about joining Leeds, isn't he?

FOREIGN VIEW: "The referee missed the call. And, typical, we've seen in these competitions, the referees think they're bigger than the game itself. And they've got to put themselves ahead of everything. I don't know, Robbie spoke, said something, whatever. But when a referee misses a call like that, he's got to be big enough to kind of ignore it and let the game go on." — LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena reacts angrily after Robbie Keane is sent off in the MLS side's 5-2 win over El Salvador's Isidro Metapan in the CONCACAF Champions League.

COMING UP: All the best previews of the weekend action with team news and match facts for every Premier League game and team news for all of Europe's major leagues. Plus, Jim White will be filing his latest blog and you can see the results of our Goal of the Week poll.

Away from football there is live action from the latest stage of the Vuelta a Espana (13:00) and the first one-day international between England and South Africa at Cardiff, should it stop raining...

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