This Fight Lacks The Bite: Quick Thoughts On The 2014 FIFA Ballon D’Or Nominees.

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It looks like the invitations for the Englishmen got lost in the post yet again. What’s new, pussycat?

However, what really gets my goat is the absence, or should I say obvious exclusion of Luis Suarez from the list. Yes, he did channel his inner Hannibal Lecter yet again during the 2014 World Cup, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was far and away the standout player in the English Premier League for the 2013-2014 season. A moment of madness really should not invalidate his footballing merits. Whatever happened to the concept of fair play? Or is FIFA scared he might actually win the award if he was included in the nominees?

Another notable absentee from the list is Godin. An integral player in Atletico Madrid’s La Liga winning-campaign last season and the scorer of the goal that almost won them the Champions League is not deemed worthy enough of a nomination? Rubbish.

Apart from that World Cup-winning goal, I have to say that Mario Goetze has had an unremarkable season as a whole. But fine, I will throw the kid a bone as he is unlikely to win the award, anyway.

Speaking of unremarkable seasons, while there is no denying the genius of Andres Iniesta, his nomination puzzled me a bit, as by his standards, he has had quite an awful season. And the same could be said with regards the whole La Roja squad, as only Sergio Ramos and Diego Costa joins Iniesta in the list. What a fall from the ex-World Champions.

Yaya Toure’s nomination has made a lot of people go “WTF?”, and I have to admit that it confused me too—that is, until I saw the stat that he has actually completed the most number of passes in the course of the 2013-2014 season. The runner-up? Midfield Monster Toni Kroos. Props to him, then.

You know which player really should be winning these types of awards? Philipp Lahm. An unbelievable talent and such a competent leader, and yet his stealth is what prevents him from being recognized as a mainstream great. I shall consider it a major miracle if he ends up in the Top 3, let alone wins it.

It’s not at all surprising that 6 Germans have made it to the list. After all, Die Mannschaft have dethroned the Spanish NT as the Darlings of the Football World with the efficiency only the Germans can boast of. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Mueller and Toni Kroos all deserved their nominations, and it honestly wouldn’t surprise me if one of them manages to sneak into the Top 3. However, the one German that is the sentimental favourite of hardcore football fans to win it all is none other than…

Manuel Neuer. Yes, the German goalkeeper. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past year or so, he is now widely considered to be the best goalkeeper in the world. Iker Casillas who? The hashtag #NeuerForBallonDOr trended for hours on Twitter after the Nominations List has been released. If only this was open for public vote, Neuer would have already won it by a landslide.

Not to take anything away from Cristiano and Messi, but what would giving them another Ballon D’Or really prove, anyway? The whole world already knows that they can score loads of goals and shatter records, so isn’t it about time that another footballer gets recognized for his merits?

Prediction: Cristiano, Messi and Manuel Neuer will be the Top 3. As for the winner, I reckon it will be a toss-up between Cristiano and Neuer. My head says Cristiano will take it based on his sheer popularity but my heart says Neuer deserves it more. Way more.

Come on players and journalists, open up your eyes and see beyond the goals and the flash. Vote for Neuer and Save the award’s credibility. You know it makes sense.

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GPOTD: Post-World Cup 2014 Thoughts.

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Yes, I am well aware of how late this is, but I’ve always been fond of the cliché “Better late than never”, so allow me to share some of my random ruminations, observations and verdicts on the fifth World Cup of my football-supporting life:

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Germany. Die Mannschaft. The Krauts. The Nutella Gang. Whatever you choose to call them, there’s only 4 words that can aptly sum up their WC 2014 campaign: They deserved to win.

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Champions of the World, at long last.

 

Mario Goetze made the record books as the first super sub to score a winning goal in a World Cup Final. Bet he never imagined that a single goal would change his life forever when he woke up that morning. Not bad for one day’s work.

Speaking of super players, Miroslav Klose has broken Ronaldo’s long-standing record of most goals scored in the World Cup. Not a bad way to end an international career, eh? What a legend.

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…Can score goals more than you.

 

Germany’s Manuel Neuer deserved to win the Golden Glove and then some. He was an absolute beast and a mountain that rival players could not get through. Move over, Iker Casillas*. There’s a new boss in between the sticks now.

(*Don’t worry, San Iker, I still love you.)

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So good, he plays multiple positions.

 

Please watch the Die Mannschaft’s Victory Party/Homecoming Celebrations. It’s 50 Shades of Hilarious, I tell you.

Spain. To say it was a horrific title defence would be the understatement of the year. They were made to look like amateurs. Their first two matches were absolute trainwrecks and yet I could not stop watching. Time to rebuild and start over, La Roja. You had a good six years.

England. Dear, oh dear. How did it get that bad?

Hardcore fans may not always take the USA MNT seriously, but in this tournament, they have managed to achieve what the likes of the so-called “powerhouses” Spain, Italy, Portugal and England have not: survive the knockout stages, and in the Group of Death at that. Major props, dudes. Major props.

That vanishing spray. Yet another new thingamajig that got a lot of football fans going, “huh?” It always reminded me of shaving mousse and whipped cream. The geek in me thought, “Isn’t that interfering with the ball’s trajectory in some way?” But then again, apparently not because it’s now being adopted in this upcoming English Premier League season. The spray is here to stay!

Lionel Messi won the Golden Ball, making him the “best” player of the tournament. Nothing against him, he’s a brilliant player and all that, but I personally think there were 3 or 4 players that deserved that award more than him. Also, if he’s such the dog’s bollocks, how come he was not included in the FIFA XI of the tournament?!

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Oh, cheer up, Leo! You’re still the “best” in the world (allegedly)!

 

James Rodriguez, meanwhile, seems to be the newest “It Player”. The Colombian managed to win the Golden Ball even if his team didn’t reach that far in the tournament, but for some reason, I’m not quite sold on him yet. Now that he’s moved to Real Madrid, we shall see if he can sustain the good form he had in the WC and prove he’s really the next big thing.

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Will he live up to the hype?

 

Luis Suarez. Ayayay. I groaned and facepalmed so badly when I saw that biting incident. What the hell is up with him and that kind of oral fixation?! As a Liverpool fan, I didn’t even attempt to rationalize or defend his actions. They say genius and madness are sometimes mutually-inclusive, but this is just ridiculous. Enjoy your ban, Luis, and perhaps try to squeeze in some sessions with a shrink during your break.

Pundits, journos and other fans may continue to sing the praises of Lionel Messi, James Rodriguez and the like, but for me, the true breakout star of this World Cup was Germany’s Toni Kroos. Trust me, that guy’s going to be huge.

Best kit of the tournament? For me it belongs to France. Classic and with just the right amount of badassery.

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Sadly, the Official World Cup 2014 Song “We Are One” just didn’t do it for me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s…okay, just not catchy and engaging enough for me. I mean, I found myself humming Shakira’s “Waka Waka” and Ricky Martin’s “Cup Of Life” more during the tournament, so it must have missed the mark somewhere.      

Retirements from international football came down like an unwelcome torrential rain post-WC. I don’t even know where to begin or who to pay tribute to first. Thanks for making me feel like such a dinosaur, guys.  

Ever notice that the players seem to become much-more attractive when they’re donning their national team kits? I’ve done a very non-scientific poll among my football-loving friends (both ladies and gents alike) and they all agreed that players all have that extra je ne sais quoi when they play for their NTs. Proof that patriotism can be sexy.

 

However, now that the return of club football is drawing near, that extra attractiveness and je ne sais quoi are sure to disappear as tribal rivalries shall be renewed. Oh well, I suppose that’s just the way the football bounces…

 

101 Random And (May Not Be) Obscure Football Trivia, Part 2.

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I never expected the first part of this to be one of the most popular and most-viewed articles on my blog, and so without further ado, I shall give the public what they want–More football trivia to get your geek on:

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Show-Offs and Bragging Right-Holders.

In Premier League history, the only player to have scored 3 perfect hat-tricks (1 header, 1 from right foot, 1 from left) is Robbie Fowler.

Players with the most number of hattricks in the Premier League: Alan Shearer (11); Robbie Fowler (9); Thierry Henry (8); Michael Owen (8); Wayne Rooney (6).

Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel holds the Premier League record of scoring the fastest brace by a defender (9 minutes and 28 seconds).

Dani Alves is currently the La Liga player with the most wins over Real Madrid: 13 (8 with Barcelona and 5 with Sevilla).

The partnership of Andy Cole and Peter Beardsley during the 1993-1994 season for Newcastle has produced the most number of goals at 55, followed by Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard for Chelsea (51 during 2009-2010) and Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton for Blackburn (49 during 1994-1995).

Four players who’ve all played in the Liverpool and Manchester Derbies, as well as Spain’s El Clasico: Nicolas Anelka, Mark Hughes, Steve McManaman and Michael Owen.

Both Nicolas Anelka and Michael Owen have scored goals in all of them too.

5 Goalkeepers who have scored a goal (or more) in the Premier League: Peter Schmeichel, Brad Friedel, Paul Robinson, Tim Howard and Asmir Begovic.

Ryan Giggs has won more trophies (34) since 1991 than the whole of Manchester City FC (14) since 1889.

Luis Suarez now holds the record for scoring the most goals in a Premier League season (excluding penalties).

Jari Litmanen was voted Finnish Footballer of the Year for seven consecutive years (1992-1998).

David Beckham has scored the most direct free kicks in the history of the English Premier League (15).

Belgian goalkeeper Simon Mignolet can speak 4 languages (English, French, German and Dutch) and has a degree in Political Science.

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Bad Boys, Bad Boys… 

Joey Barton was made to serve 200 hours of community service in 2009 as punishment for beating up his teammate Ousmane Dabo during training.

Robin van Persie was accused of rape in 2005 and was held in jail for 14 days. These allegations have never been proven true and were dismissed.

On January 1991, then-Sheffield United player Vinnie Jones was booked within 5 seconds of play vs Manchester City. He beat his own record a year later, when as a Chelsea player, he was booked after 3 seconds, while the ball was still in the center circle.

Eric Cantona was banned from the French National Team in 1988 after he described his manager Henri Michel “a sack of shit”.

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The Strange, the Curious and the WTF-worthy.

Michael Owen has taken 21 penalties in the Premier league, but has only converted 14 of them. So far, Wayne Rooney has the same record.

Technically, Juan Pablo Angel has the worst penalty conversion rate in the Premier League, having only scored 50% of the penalties he has taken.

Which team has been awarded the most number of penalties in Premier League history? Liverpool FC with 119 (as of January 2014).

Robert Lewandowski was supposed to fly to England for a £3 million move to Blackburn in 2008, but a volcanic ash cloud prevented him from completing the move in time.

Cristiano Ronaldo was once told by his school teacher to forget about football as there’s “no money to be made there”.

Famous chef Gordon Ramsay’s hopes of becoming a professional footballer was ended by a knee injury.

Spanish TV presenter Sara Carbonero, the girlfriend of Real Madrid’s Iker Casillas (as well as the baby momma of his son Martin), is an Atletico Madrid supporter.

Fernando Torres has his name tattooed in Tengwar, the script from Lord of the Rings.

India withdrew from the 1950 World Cup in protest at the rule that requires players to wear boots.

The 1981 FA Cup Final between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspurs ended in a 1-1 draw, with Man City’s Tom Hutchinson scoring both goals.

An England centre-forward during the 1890s called G.O. Smith had an unusual quirk for his position: he refused to head the ball. He believed that the ball should stay on the ground and that the forwards who needed to use their head were not playing the game correctly.

In the run-up to the 15th World Cup, held in USA in 1994, Macau played 6 games in the Asian group, lost all 6, scored zero goals and conceded 46.

Jose Mourinho is the first manager to lose in 4 UEFA Champions League Semifinals. He’s lost 6 in total.

Since the Premiership replaced the old First Division in 1992-1993, no English manager has succeeded in winning it.

Cesc Fabregas is afraid of mushrooms.

Kaka was a virgin when he got married.

David Batty was once sidelined for 3 weeks after his child ran over his ankle with a tricycle.

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Quote Them On That

Dutch striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy once told Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain that “Goals are like ketchup, you keep hitting the bottle and eventually plenty comes out”!

Andrei Arshavin once said, “I started off playing checkers. When I realized that I won’t be able to become an International Grand Master, I had to leave it for football.”

“The natural state of the football fan is bitter disappointment, no matter what the score.” –Nick Hornby

“All I know for certain about the morality and the obligations of men is that I owe it to football.” –Albert Camus

“Ryan Giggs is one of those rare players who could play football in a phone box and find the door no matter how many players were in there with him.” –Carlos Queiroz

“I took a whack on my left ankle, but something told me it was my right.” –Lee Hendrie

“My wife often complains about my tactics. She tells me to stick with the players who won the last match.” –Pep Guardiola

“He’s a specialist in failure. I am not.” Jose Mourinho on Arsene Wenger.

“They taught us at school that family is the most important thing for a human. Roma is my family. Have you ever heard of someone who left his poor parents to live with rich strangers?” –Francesco Totti when asked why he refused to join Real Madrid back in 2006.

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Milestones and History Lessons

The 700th goal scored in the Premier League was by Tomas Rosicky of Arsenal vs Sunderland (February 2014).

Lionel Messi became the youngest player ever to play 400 matches for FC Barcelona at 26 years and 7 months, beating his teammate Andres Iniesta’s record (he was 27 years and 11 months old at the time).

Statistically speaking, Arsene Wenger is more successful during his first 1000 matches with Arsenal compared to how Sir Alex Ferguson did during his first 1000 matches with Manchester United.

Fabrice (at 16 years and 98 days old) is currently the youngest player to score in La Liga history.

Ryan Giggs (at 40 years and 110 days old) currently holds the record for the oldest outfield player to play in the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League.

The goal scored by Edin Dzeko (Manchester City) after just 44 seconds is the fastest goal scored by an away team at Old Trafford in Premier League history.

Fernando Torres became the youngest captain of Atletico Madrid at 19 years old.

Bryan Robson’s netted strike vs then-Yugoslavia (December 13, 1989) after 38 seconds was the fastest goal scored in Wembley.

The Hall of Fame was created at the National Football Museum in Preston in 2002, and 29 people who were deemed to have made an ‘outstanding and lasting contribution to English Football’ were inducted into the roll of honour.

The governing body of Football, the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA to you and me), was founded at the rear of the HQ of the Union Francaise de Sports Athletiques in Paris on May 21, 1904. The English Football Association—the oldest in the world—refused to join until April 1905.

Football was introduced into Moscow by an English mill owner, Clem Charnock, who showed the game to his Russian workers in 1887.

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The First, The Last, The Everything…

Fernando Llorente is the first player from Athletic Bilbao to represent Spain when he was called up in 2002. He also plays the clarinet.

Sergio Ramos is the first defender to score 2 goals in a UEFA Champions League semifinal.

Karim Benzema is not only the first Frenchman to score a brace vs FC Barcelona since Thierry Henry, he’s also the first to score a brace against them at the Bernabeu since Raul.

Scott Parker is the first player to be signed for 5 London clubs (Charlton, Chelsea, West Ham, Tottenham, and Fulham) in his Premier League career.

Borussia Dortmund were the first-ever German side to win a European trophy in 1966, beating Liverpool 2-1 after extra time in the final of the Cup Winners Cup.

Only 15 teams took part in the first-ever FA Cup, and 13 of them were from London. The other 2 were Donington School from Lincolnshire and Queen’s Park from Scotland.

Ian Rush is the last Liverpool player to score 30 goals in a season, setting that record in 1986-1987.

Kevin Phillips is the last Englishman to win the Premier League Golden Boot back in the 1999-2000 season.

Everton FC were the first football club to play in Anfield.

On April 23, 1927 (also known as St. George’s Day), the first radio commentary of a football match was broadcast in the United Kingdom. The commentator on the Arsenal-Cardiff City match was George Allinson, and his assistant was Derek McCulloch.

Blackpool first wore their distinctive tangerine strip in the 1923-24 season. The colour was suggested by a club director named Albert Hargreaves, who was inspired by the Dutch national team and thought that orange would help Blackpool stand out among fellow English clubs.

The first indoor arena used in a World Cup was the Pontiac Silverdrome in the United States city of Detroit, which was one of the venues for the 1994 World Cup.

The first recipient of the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year Award was Stanley Matthews of Blackpool in 1948.

In 1888, while still having the name Small Heath Alliance, Birmingham City was the first club to adopt limited liability. The share capital of the club was £650.

The first team to win the FA Cup three times in a row were the Wanderers. They won 3 finals from 1876-1878 beating Old Etonians, Oxford University and Royal Engineers.

The first player to be capped by England while playing for a foreign team was Gerry Hitchens. The former Aston Villa player played for Inter Milan and a number of Italian clubs between 1961-1970.

The first major football tournament won on penalties was the 1976 European Championship. Czechoslovakia beat West Germany.

The Mitropa Cup was the first major international cup for club teams. The name Mitropa is an abbreviation of Mitteleuropa which means Middle or Central Europe. The competition began in 1927 originally with 2 teams each from Hungary, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.

Arthur Wharton was the first black professional footballer in Britain. Born in Ghana in 1865, he played in goal for a number of clubs including Preston North End and Sheffield United.

Cristiano Ronaldo is the first player to break the 15 goals-in-a-season tally in the UEFA Champions League during the 2013-2014 season.

Diego Godin of Atletico Madrid is the first Uruguayan to score in an UEFA Champions League Final (2014 vs Real Madrid).

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I Didn’t Know That

4x Formula One World Champion Sebastian Vettel’s favourite team is Eintracht Frankfurt.

Football commentator Martin Tyler reportedly lives in a house called Squirrels Leap.

Jamie Carragher started his career with England as a striker.

Fernando Torres started playing football as a goalkeeper.

Gerard Pique’s girlfriend, famous popstar Shakira, is a MENSA member.

Aaron Ramsey was actually approached to play rugby when he was younger but was already signed to Cardiff City’s youth team.

John Terry started out as a Manchester United supporter.

Sergio “Kun” Aguero is Diego Maradonna’s son-in-law.

As a youngster, Michael Schumacher’s hero was Toni Schumacher (no relation), Cologne and West Germany’s goalkeeper.

The goal net was patented by J.A. Brodie of Liverpool in 1890.

Two-handed throw-ins were made mandatory in 1882.

What is The Acme Thunderer? It is a brand of whistle invented by Birmingham toolmaker Joseph Hudson in 1884, and is still used to this day in football.

It was only in 1891 that penalties were introduced.

A match that is brought to a halt before the end of the full 90 minutes is classified as “abandoned”.

The Italian system of play called catenaccio literally means “door bolt” and describes the defensive wall approach used in Italy. The system involves 4 markers at the back with a player (a sweeper) behind them—a door bolt.

Peter Corr, an ex-Ireland and Everton player, is the paternal uncle of the Irish siblings/musicians The Corrs.

There has never been a knockout tie in the UEFA Champions League that has ended on 0-0 aggregate.

The Mexico vs Bulgaria match during the 1994 World Cup was held up for 15 minutes due to one of the goals collapsing.

The full and formal name of FC Barcelona’s home stadium is El Nou Estadi del Futbol Club Barcelona.

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What’s In A Name?

Manchester United’s original name was Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Newton Heath. It was then shortened to Newton Heath before becoming Manchester United FC in 1902.

There are 20 top-flight British clubs that have the word ‘United’ in their name: Sheffield United, Newcastle United, Scunthorpe United, West Ham United, Manchester United, Carlisle United, Southend United, Hartlepool United, Ayr United, Leeds United, Dundee United, Torquay United, Hereford United, Rotheram United, Boston United, Peterborough United, Colchester United, Cambridge United, Oxford United, Airdrie United.

Founded in 1891, the Uruguayan club of Peñarol was then known as The Central Uruguay Railway Cricket Club.

The Czech club Sparta Prague was originally called King’s Vineyard when it was founded in 1893.

Manchester City’s first name was West Gordon St. Marks when they were founded in 1880. It changed to Ardwick FC in 1887 before becoming Manchester City in 1894.

81 The Finnish team FC Jazz was founded in 1934 under the name Porin Pallo-Toveritand. Their current name comes from the fact that they are based in Pori, the home to an annual jazz festival.

The Mexican club Atlante once called themselves U-53 in honour of a German U-boat.

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Until the next installment! Stay bouncebackable!

 

Photo of the Day: He Came In Like A Wrecking (Golden) Ball…

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Photo via Twitter.

Finally, someone NOT named Lionel Messi has somehow managed to win the Ballon d’Or. Colour us surprised but it is the first ever Ballon d’Or of the ever-controversial Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo. Will this be the first of many more to come, or will Messi reclaim his crown next year? Stay pressed, homies.

But for now, it’s Cristiano’s time to work (twerk?) it.

Photo Of The Day: A Piece Of The Golden Pie.

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Image via Mundo Deportivo.

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So Xavi Hernandez, the chief midfield genius of the reigning Spanish La Liga and UEFA Champions’ League Winners FC Barcelona, falls short (pardon the pun) yet again in the vote for the FIFA World Player Of The Year. Que horror.

The winner, Lionel Messi, is not just an extremely talented footballer, but generous as well. Which other footballer would so graciously offer to share the much-coveted Ballon D’Or with his teammate?

Cheer up, Xavi. Actually, I’m not even sure if the hombre is sad about losing or it’s just his default “longface”. Any which way, at least he’s  in good company–Raul, Paolo Maldini and Thierry Henry are just some of the notable players who’ve never won the Ballon D’Or.

Where’s Kanye West when we need him?

Photo of the Day: Del Bosque Rains on Messi’s Parade

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Image via the Xavi fangirls at tumblr.com. Damn, they're quick. And we love them for that.

In a parallel universe, this is what would have happened in yesterday’s awards ceremony after Lionel Messi of Barcelona and Argentina won the Ballon d’Or ahead of his fellow teammates and World Cup-winning Spaniards Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta.

Messi as Taylor Swift is perfect, but Señor Del Bosque shedding his regal demeanour to channel the boorish Kanye West? Priceless.

Video and Photos of the Day: Handbags at El Clasico.

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El Clasico, a.k.a. FC Barcelona vs Real Madrid FC, would not be so hyped if it does not have the requisite drama worthy of cheesy soap operas. This time around, the climactic scene went something like this:

Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid tackles Barca’s Lionel Messi badly.
Messi goes down.
Players from both teams swarm the ref.
Carles Puyol, Barca’s Captain,  tries to talk to Ramos.
Sergio pushes Puyol.
Sergio gets a red card, pushes xavi as he leaves the pitch.
Iker Casillas, Real Madrid Captain, tries to calm Gerard Pique down, etc…

Before that, here are some choice catfight moments from the match:

Carvalho "casually" stretching his elbow to catch Messi in the face. Sneaky. But not like it hasn't been done before.

Cristiano Ronaldo getting all "diva-esque" on Barca boss Pep Guardiola for not giving him the ball, pronto. Chill, gurl.

Basically, drama all around.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the match ended with the scoreline Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid.

Jose Mourinho got schooled by Pep Guardiola well and proper, y’all.

However, the best part about post-match El Clasico was Andres Iniesta posting a photo of himself sans shorts in his Facebook page. Beating Real Madrid soundly in home turf sure makes a man do some crazy stuff.

Bottomless fun with Iniesta.

I just know this week’s Crackovia episode will be nothing short of EPIC. Stay tuned, folks.