Barcelona’s win over Espanyol was tinged with controversy. But, Frank Tigani writes, they deserved to win and will not care either way
History was against Espanyol ahead of the Catalan derby. Not since June 2007 had they beaten their rivals Barcelona. Yet, as the game ticked on at Cornella-El Prat on Saturday, it seemed that their winless streak might just come to an end at long last.
With just a quarter of an hour to go the score was still locked at 0-0 and the hosts were giving as good as they got. As Javier Aguirre, the Espanyol Coach, noted after: “The game was still there to be won”, and it was. It would take something special to break the deadlock or, as it turned out, a mistake.
And the mistake happened very shortly after wards. Dani Alves crossed the ball into the box towards Neymar. The Brazilian seemed to control the ball before it hit the outstretched hand of Javi Lopez. Penalty. Lionel Messi rarely misses from the spot and he kept his cool again, dispatching the spot kick that ultimately earned his side a precious three points.
Yet, many will argue, particularly those of a Perico persuasion, that the mistake was committed by the referee, Clos Gomez. They will claim that when controlling the ball Neymar had actually used his arm too. Replays show that he did. One can understand the complete disbelief around the Cornella.
Lopez himself later went as far to say “Gomez was the winner.” This is perhaps going a little far, but the referee certainly did make himself a key factor in the game’s outcome. It is a shame whenever this happens. Martino lamented all the talk about the referee. “I find it regrettable that we don’t talk more about football,” he said.
Yet in a game where a single goal separated the teams and where it came courtesy of a penalty that was given for a rather dubious foul, it is hard to avoid it. In addition, Espanyol had perhaps a more legitimate claim for a penalty in the first half.
Dashing into the box Lopez, who was at the centre of everything, received a knock to the face from Javier Mascherano’s arm that conveniently stopped him in his tracks. “You can see how my lip is [from the tangle with Mascherano] but he didn’t call for a penalty,” Lopez went on to say.
His side certainly made it uncomfortable for their more illustrious opponents. But, truth be told, Espanyol’s profligacy in front of goal cost them dearly. The guiltiest party in this was Pizzi.
The Portuguese squandered two great chances in the opening period to put his side in front. Had he done better the outcome could and probably would have been completely different. Football is an unpredictable game most times, but if there is one thing seen repeatedly it is that teams who fail to take their chances are more than not punished for it. Especially when it is Barcelona they are up against. And this is what happened to Espanyol.
After Messi struck – in what was incidentally his first goal at Espanyol’s new stadium – the hosts only made it harder for themselves. Barely five minutes later with the Argentine bearing down on goal, Kiko Casilla rushed out of his box and handled the ball. Red card. It was game-set-match from that moment on.
It came as no surprise the difficulty Barca had in collecting all three points. As Martino said afterwards, “Derbies are not easy to win.” While many will talk about the refereeing, overall Barca were worthy winners. They were the dominate side, they created more chances, had more shots on goal and all their pressure finally told. But, Barca were far from their best. And maybe this was to be expected.
Saturday’s win ended a tough week for La Blaugrana. It started with their in that epic Clasico against Real Madrid before they comfortably accounted for Celta Vigo midweek. And then there is the small matter of their clash with Atletico Madrid in the Champions League this week, so the players could be forgiven for not being at their enterprising best and, no doubt, a few had their mind on Tuesday night’s match-up.
For four hours Barca’s victory put them on top of the table. That was until Atletico once again showed their title credentials, coming from behind to beat Athletic Bilbao at San Mames. Martino was spot on when he said: “There are seven more finals in the League.”
From here on, for Barca along with Real Madrid and Atletico, every game is a must-win. And they will not care how they come, as long as they come.