FC Barcelona received goals from Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi in a 2-0 win over Real Madrid at the Camp Nou Saturday night in the latest instalment of El Clasico, the greatest club rivalry in world soccer.
What started out as a gorgeous sunny day here in Barcelona ended in a wet, sodden night, but the conditions could hardly dampen the spirits of the blaugrana faithful, who witnessed their team masterfully dispose of los blancos in fine fashion.
A lifelong dream of mine was also fulfilled - as a soccer junkie, I've wanted to come to this city and attend El Clasico for the longest time - and I'm happy to report the experience was well worth the wait and that it more than lived up to my expectations.
Here's how the day unfolded….
8 am: After waking up, I pick up copies of El Mundo Deportivo and Marca at the newsstand before heading to the corner bar for my breakfast (chocolate con churros) and sit down at a table where I spread out with my papers.
8:30 am: I walk over to Placa de Catalunya and cross the street and begin to stroll down La Rambla. The flower vendors begin to open up, as do the pet stores (does anyone ever buy the roosters on display?), while the local artists set up. All is quiet on the city's main strip - that won't last.
10 am: Crowds have already started to gather at Placa de Sant Jaume, the square where fans come to celebrate when Barcelona wins a league championship. Four old gentlemen occupy a table at a outdoor café looking upon the square engage in a spirited debate over who will win the game.
11 am: What was supposed to be a leisurely walk along the Barceloneta Beach turns out to be anything but. A sea of people make it hard to navigate, and things aren't made any easier by the countless pickup games of soccer taking place.
Noon: La Rambla is in full swing. Hordes of tourists and locals crowd the streets. A group of Real Madrid fans casually stroll down the strip drawing dagger-like stares.
2 to 7:30 pm: Following a light lunch, I aimlessly walk the streets of the Bari Gotic neighbourhood.
7:45 pm: Traffic is backed up, choking all of the streets leading to the Camp Nou.
8:15 pm: The heavens open up and it begins to rain. I duck into the Taller de Tapas restaurant across the street from the stadium and feast on a tasty array of tapas: squid, octopus, a plate of serrano ham, sausages and chorizo, and wild mushrooms cooked in a garlic-flavoured olive oil.
9:30 pm: Still coming down pretty hard as I pass through the gates into Camp Nou. I find my seat in Boca 221 and settle in as the teams take to the field to warm up.
9:55 pm: Barca's team song plays over the p.a. system and the crowd sings along in perfect unison. My ears hurt.
10 pm: El Clasico finally kicks off and Barca begins to press, controlling the early part of the game.
10:06 pm: Lionel Messi skips past the Madrid defence and forces goalkeeper Iker Casillas to make a sharp save. Thierry Henry's effort shortly after just whispered by the post, bringing the crowd to its feet.
10:26 pm: Barcelona used some pretty passing and smart possession play to pin Real Madrid inside its half before los blancos catch the blaugrana off-guard on the counter-attack. Dutch midfielder Royston Drenthe is sent in all alone, but he shoots directly as Victor Valdes who makes the easy save.
10:36 pm: Madrid midfielder Wesley Sneijder limps off the field and is substituted by the debuting Miguel Palanca. Real is reeling.
10:45 pm: The ref blows the whistle for half-time, and I get out of the rain and head to the concession stands where I get a bocadillo con hamon (ham sandwich) and a beer. Plenty of worried faces around - Barca dominated the first half, but can't seem to break down the Madrid defence.
11:00 pm: The rain lets up a bit as the second half starts with Barca dictating the pace of the game and Eto'o carving out an early scoring chance, only to be denied by Casillas.
11:19 pm: Eidur Gudjohnsen is replaced by Sergio Busquets. Gudjohnsen did little in the first half, so it'll be interesting to see what his replacement does.
11:24 pm: Busquets is knocked down in the box by Madrid defender Michel Salgado and the ref points to the spot. The crowd goes nuts, but it's soon muted when Casillas saves Eto'o's penalty shot attempt. The cluster of Real Madrid fans in the upper echelons of the stadium celebrate and gloat.
11:30 pm: The rain starts coming down a little harder and Barcelona picks up the pace, but they can't unlock the stout Madrid defence. Despite being completely out-played and producing very little, it looks as though los blancos will emerge from the Camp Nou with a draw.
11:37 pm: Barcelona has Real on the ropes and wins a corner, which Xavi Hernandez delivers into the heart of the Madrid box. Captain Carlos Puyol out-jumps his defender and heads the ball back across to Eto'o who bundles it over the goal-line. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL! The Camp Nou erupts.
11:47 pm: Barca is still holding onto the lead in injury time when Henry speeds down the right wing and plays a perfect pass into the middle to Messi who curls his shot beyond the reach of Casillas and just inside the near-post. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL! 2-0 and again, the Camp Nou erupts as nearly 100,000 soccer-crazy Spaniards go crazy.
11:50 pm: The ref blows the final whistle and the Camp Nou heaves with electricity as the rain pours down. The team's anthem is played at full volume, and the crowd sings along. My ears are hurting.
Midnight: I hop in a cab and make my way back into the centre of the city as a cacophony of car horns are blown in celebration. You have to feel sorry for the folks who live in the apartment building across the street - how they must have suffered last night.
12:30 am: The rain is still streaming down, but La Rambla is packed with fans, who pour into the bars. I order a beer and have plate of seafood paella before walking back to the hotel.
1:30 am: Time for bed. My clothes are soaking wet, my feet hurt and I have a cold. But it was all worth it. A rainy night in Barcelona provided me with a lifetime of memories. El Clasico was just that - a classic.
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