By Sam Lee
The Berlin Wall fell, students protested in Tiananmen Square and 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives in the Hillsborough disaster. The events may have taken place 21 years ago but they are some of the most memorable in history and have been etched forever onto the memories of the onlooking world.
For Real Madrid fans of a certain age, another memory from 1989 can occasionally be found nagging away at the back of their minds. This week, it was brought into sharp focus once again. The event, obvious to some, oblivious to others, was a 5-0 humbling to AC Milan in the second leg of the European Cup semi-final.
A 1-1 draw had been eked out at the Santiago Bernebeu before Madrid, in the middle of five successive title wins, travelled to the San Siro hoping to reach their first European final since losing to Liverpool seven years earlier.
Hopes were soon well and truly extinguished when goals from Carlo Ancelotti, Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullitt, Marco van Basten and Roberto Donadoni saw Madrid five goals adrift within an hour. They were lucky Milan spent the last 30 minutes admiring their handy work.
The two sides have locked horns on six occasions since then, with one draw, three Milan wins and only two for Madrid. Tuesday night saw the seventh meeting, and a chance for the newest Madrid recruits to avenge the 1989 hammering.
After 15 minutes, it looked as if it was going to happen. In truth, it probably should have.
A Cristiano Ronaldo ‘tomahawk’ somehow found its way through one of the worst defensive walls in history, and a minute later Mesut Ozil’s effort deflected in off Daniele Bonera for 2-0. The game was all but in the bag, and the opportunity to right the wrongs of that infamous night in the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza presented itself.
Of course, it wasn’t seized. Madrid dominated the rest of the game, bar one or two minor scares thrown up by the visitors’ various attacking talents, but could not build on their lead. Nevertheless, the performance was a convincing one, and was more than enough to give Jose Mourinho a win in what was billed as his first real test of the season. It was comfortable.
The win also sees los Blancos top their ‘group of death’ with nine points, five ahead of Milan. For the casual observer, everything seems rosy, and in fairness it pretty much is, but for those Madridistas of a certain generation there is still a long way to go.
But the signs are extremely encouraging. Ozil is starting to gel with the potent attacking force of Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain that fired in 71 goals in all competitions between them last season, while Sami Khedira is gradually finding his feet alongside the imperious Xabi Alonso. Angel Di Maria continues to frustrate on the flanks. Capable of brilliance one minute and utter stupidity/rubbish the next, the Argentinian will feel the breath of a rejuvenated Pedro Leon on his neck.
The defence, as ever with a Mourinho team, is solid, even in the absence of Sergio Ramos. Marcelo, whose manager hailed as the best left back in the world, is indeed in the form of his life, while Portuguese pair Pepe and Ricardo Carvalho are forging a formidable partnership in the middle.
If this game is to be replayed later on in the competition, a rout could be on the cards. The 22 shots, of which 7 were on target, could well garner far more than the two goals scored on Tuesday when the team settle into their expected rhythm. Of course, Mourinho has been known to take the life out of a game once a lead is established, but that’s another blog for another time.
Back in the here and now, Madrid are gearing up to host Racing Santander on Saturday night with another league win, one that would keep them on top of la Liga, looking increasingly likely.
The visitors sit 16th in the table without an away win to their name, having scored just four goals all season. They haven’t taken a point from Madrid in six meetings, and haven’t scored against them in five.
Mourinho, looking to instil consistency in his ranks, has vowed to stick with the same starting 11 week-in, week-out. Pending injuries, of course.
With no new fitness concerns, and with Ramos still sidelined with knee trouble, expect to see the line-up from midweek run out for kick off come Saturday evening. And while Milan may have gotten away without suffering a heavy defeat, Santander may not be so lucky.