For those of you unfamiliar with football and the Champions League, here is how it works. The top three or four teams from every league in Europe compete to win the biggest prize in club football. It starts with group stages, from which the two top teams in each group advance to the knockouts. Each knockout match is played over two legs, one game at home and one away. As the phrase “knockout” suggests, if you lose over the two legs, you’re out. The goal is to get to (and then win) the final, which this year is being held at Wembley Stadium, in London (Faridah’s hometown).
For those of you unfamiliar with Casilda and Faridah’s friendship, about 70% of their conversations are about football. Normally, they are pretty neutral. Their teams (Real Madrid for Cas and Manchester United for Faridah) are in different leagues and hadn’t played each other for ten years. Then during fall break Cas sent Faridah the following e-mail: “REAL MADRID-MANU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” signifying the end of a ten-year wait.
The final score over two legs was 3-2 to Real Madrid after Nani of Manchester United was controversially sent off during the second match.
I was initially going to open this article with an “I am sorry.” I am sorry that the referee unjustly sent Nani out, I am sorry that he did not see Sergio Ramos touch the ball with his hand, and I am sorry that we robbed the match. That is, in fact, how I felt, albeit briefly, when I saw Faridah’s lower jaw begin to tremble (no shame in it) after Cristiano Ronaldo netted the second goal (third goal overall) and guaranteed Real Madrid’s presence in the quarter-finals.
Just 15 minutes earlier, I had thought we were out. I had witnessed an unhopeful first half, in which our possession had amounted to only two weak shots on target. Furthermore, Xabi Alonso had been nullified by Welbeck, and Cristiano Ronaldo had transformed back into the anxious and impulsive player he once was. Adding to this spectacle, the second half opened with an own goal by Ramos.
I sat in silence as Faridah cheekily smiled and said that we should take a picture of us, with our teams’ jerseys, to put next to this article. Needless to say, I refused.
In the 56th minute an adventurous, or perhaps just bored, referee gave Nani a red card; we watched, incredulous. Feeling brave and defiant, at first I attempted to argue in favor of the referee’s decision: “Nani’s foot was menacingly high, he had impacted Arbeloa’s chest and completely missed the ball, and had thereby put Arbeloa in danger”– not that I am opposed to the idea of Arbeloa being in danger, since he is a mediocre player at best.
However, after seeing the replays and, even more significantly, reading that MARCA (the Real Madrid sensationalist newspaper) claimed the referee had shown the wrong-colored card, I chose to remain silent and stop insulting Faridah’s intelligence.
At this point, Mourinho employed his tactical genius to take Arbeloa out, and put Luka Modric in. Soon enough, Real Madrid scored two goals, which, unlike Cristiano, I celebrated profusely. We both knew that, despite the commentators’ efforts to keep the match exciting, a ten-man Manchester United would not score two goals in the remaining twenty minutes. At this point, I smugly asked Faridah if she still wanted to take that picture for the Nass. Needless to say, she refused. Out of respect, I did not insist on this for the remainder of the match.
I am not particularly proud of my team’s performance on Tuesday and I know how Faridah must be feeling. In fact, I know exactly how she is feeling for two reasons. Firstly, the all-too-vivid memory of Pepe’s ridiculously unjust red card in the 2011 semi-finals against Barcelona still torments me.
Yet, even more telling, is the fact that Faridah cancelled our Ajihei post-match dinner. Those of you who have had the pleasure of eating there know that you would only forgo chef Kitamura’s dragon rolls in the most dire of situations.
Given that I am a hugely empathetic and fair person, I think that Faridah and Manchester United fans at large do deserve an apology. I will gladly abide and give them my best attempt: “I am sorry that I am not sorry.”
N.B. Don’t worry, you will get that much-awaited picture from the Wembley final, which Real Madrid will most definitely be playing, and which I will most definitely be watching.