All set for "El Classico", biggest league game of the season

21:49, April 09, 2010      

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This Saturday night at 10 pm local time "El Classico" kicks off in Spain as Real Madrid plays host to its eternal rivals FC Barcelona.

Spain will run to a halt as the nation turns on its television set to watch a game that divides like virtually no other.

Clashes between Real Madrid and Barcelona are about more than football, they represent a difference in style, not just in thinking about the game, but also in what football represents.

It is hard to think of a more endurin rivalry in club football: Liverpool - Manchester United, River Plate and Boca Juniors, Rangers and Celtic all come close, but none are a big as a Real Madrid - Barcelona.

In Catalonia they will tell you that Barcelona represents resistance to the centralism and arrogance of the capital city Madrid. Barcelona was seen as virtually the Catalan national side during the Franco dictatorship from 1939-1975. It was no surprise that Franco threw his hat into the Madrid corner and used the club's European success during the 1950's and 60's to promote an impoverished Spain to the outside world.

A Barcelona fan will tell you little has changed, point to the vast amounts of money (250 million Euros or 335 million US dollars) spent by club President Florentino Perez last summer and the club's almost total dominance in the national media, to say that little has changed.

Real Madrid supporters generally think that Barcelona has a "holier than thou" attitude. Zlatan Ibrahimovich was not cheap last summer and although the current Barcelona side is filled with players such as Messi, Xavi and Iniesta who have progressed through the club's youth system, the club spent large amounts of money on Dani Alves, Abidal, Henry, Seydou Keita and Chygrynskiy.

It is also possible that the increasingly vocal Catalan Nationalism of club President Joan Laporta has served to alienate supporters of the team in other regions of Spain.

If there are social and political differences between the two sides, this year once again sees a Classico that will decide the outcome of the BBVA Primera Liga in Spain.

Real Madrid has won La Liga 31 times since 1930, while Barcelona has lifted the trophy 19 times and the two have dominated domestic competition since Valencia won the league in 2004.

This season will be no different, indeed their economic dominance of the game means the big two are currently 21 points ahead of third placed Valencia in the race for the title and the winner of Saturday's game will be a clear favorite to be crowned champion yet again.

Should both teams end the season level on points, results between the two this season decide which club wins the league. Barcelona won the first meeting 1-0 in the Camp Nou Stadium, thanks to an Ibrahimovich goal and a draw would see Pep Guardiola's side go top of the table on individual goal difference.

A 2-0 win for Real Madrid would give Manuel Pellegrini's side a massive advantage, leaving it three points clear with the advantage on individual goal difference. The importance of Saturday's match could not be greater.

But there are other things to enjoy: the confrontation between Cristiano Ronaldo, who was not fully fit in the Camp Nou, and Leo Messi. Messi is in magnificent form and took the headlines all over the world with his four goals against Arsenal in midweek. Cristiano is clearly piqued by that and will be out to show what he can do.

But there are other stars on show: Gonzalo Higuain has 24 league goals, Xavi Hernandez is probably the best midfielder in Spain, while Iker Casillas and Victor Valdes are probably the best two goalkeepers.

On Saturday night an 80,000 people in the Santiago Bernabeu stadium will be joined by a possible global TV audience of around 1,000 million to enjoy the biggest league match of the season: a game that has a league title and a whole lot more at stake.

Source: Xinhua


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