This review comes at a delay because I’ve spent the last two days in a fugue state, waiting to wake up from what surely must have been a culé’s hopeful, feverish imaginings.
Only watching the highlights repeatedly (occasionally with the Titanic music in the background) has convinced me I didn’t dream the whole thing up.
El mejor montaje que he visto….???? pic.twitter.com/2dGitc0fbU
— chiuaua (@chiuaua2020) April 23, 2017
What words are there, in English, Spanish, or Catalan, for what Messi’s second goal felt like? The strangest part was the distinct lack of shock – this was a massive last-moment goal, in the dying seconds of the most important game of the league campaign, and yet through the screams and shrieks erupting around me as it happened, all I could think was, of course, of course he’s done it again. He held his shirt up to a furious Bernabéu after scoring his 500th goal in blaugrana, and the league burst wide open once again.
Barcelona is level with Real Madrid on points and in front in the head-to-head competition, and though the merengues have a game in hand, hay liga, hay liga, hay liga: there is a league, and it could go down to the wire.
The match began at a million miles an hour and didn’t let up until stoppage time. Cristiano Ronaldo (in arguably his most significant contribution of the evening) had a penalty shout in the second minute, and from there it went.
The match was a wildly back-and-forth affair, the kind of intense, open-ended football that makes a clásico a classic.
Madrid struck first just before the half-hour mark. Casemiro followed up a shot from Ramos which came back off the post. The lead was brief, however. Still holding a bandage in his mouth to staunch the flow of blood from an errant Marcelo elbow, Lionel Messi moved past Carvajal and Modric before firing home to bring Barcelona level.
In the second half, it was much the same.
Marc-André ter Stegen was excellent, saving more shots than ever before in a Barcelona shirt, and completing more passes than Cristiano Ronaldo. Keylor Navas was equally sharp – the game could’ve opened up for either side if not for the men between the posts.
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 23, 2017
Ivan Rakitić gave Barcelona the advantage with a rocket of a shot into the upper right corner. Barça then added another advantage when Sergio Ramos was (rightfully) sent off for a reckless, two-footed lunge at Messi. (Interesting side note — despite his sarcastic applauding of the referee, he was only suspended a single match).
With ten men, Madrid were down but far from out. It was James Rodriguez as a substitute with five minutes to go – he put the scoreline level and Madrid with a draw in hand and the league in sight. Another late goal from an unlikely hero, this time to essentially seal a title.
It was not to be.
In the desperate clutches of extra time, as the game and the league were rapidly receding from Barcelona’s view, there was room enough for one remuntada more.
Sergi Roberto later confessed he was not sure how he managed such a run so late in the game, but he was off, running farther and faster than he had any right to, with Jordi Alba and André Gomes, of all people, keeping pace.
From Alba to Gomes and to the feet of Messi. Who else? In what other way?
— #GràciesJohan (@alarconriv) April 24, 2017
There was a golden-edged sense of destiny about the way the ball soared into the net – there could be no way more dramatic or vital to score a 500th goal. As he drew off his shirt and held it aloft, a sacred offering and tremendous challenge all at once, we were all reminded of something we should have already known: there will never be another like him. We are surely witnessing the greatest player in the history of the game, and we should take the time to be grateful for it.