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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Beckham Bows Out in Glory: Real Madrid 3 x Real Mallorca 1

Tonight in Madrid, Real Madrid ended a sensational second half of La Liga as Champions, for the 30th time, of Spain. With Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes in the VIP box, along with his wife, Victoria, his three sons, and his mother, Sandra (and perhaps other family members), David Beckham provided 65 minutes of his usual hard-working and precise style. He had to leave the game early due to a recurrence of an ankle or foot injury; however, several of his well-placed crosses and free kicks kept the pressure on a very competitive Real Mallorca side. In fact, a few minutes before he was substituted, David hit the top right corner of the goal on a free kick. Rafael Nadal, the recent victor of the French Open Tennis Championship, was also shown several times watching his favorite team.

Ruud Van Nistelooy, a protagonist all season long for Los Merengues, also had to leave the game prematurely in the 32nd minute due to a pulled hamstring. He scored 25 goals this year, and was one of the prime reasons that Madrid was in a position to win the title at the Estadio Bernabeu tonight. He was the top-scorer of La Liga, and became the first man in the modern era to be the "goleador" in three separate countries: Holland with PSV Eindhoven, England with Manchester United, and now in Spain with Real Madrid.

The game began innocently enough, but in the 16th minute, against the run of play, Juan Arango fed a perfect through ball to Fernando Varela. Iker Casillas, the Real Madrid keeper, was helpless as Varela calmly blasted the ball into the lower left corner. Going down by a goal or more has been a recurring theme for Madrid this year. But at the same time, Barcelona was already ahead by two goals against Ginastic de Tarragona. The half ended, 0 x 1, and Barcelona was leading, 0 x 3 in their game, respectively.

When the game restarted, Beckham served an excellent ball for Sergio Ramos; however, the defender, with only the keeper, Miguel Moya to beat, headed poorly over the goal. A few minutes later, in another great opportunity for Mallorca, Varela missed an open goal that might have sunk the Madrid ship. Shortly thereafter, Beckham's free kick beat the wall but not the upper right corner as it brushed past the woodwork. He was substituted in the 65th minute to a rousing ovation. The substitute selected by Coach Fabio Capello, Jose Antonio Reyes, would be the most strategic choice of this game.

Within two minutes, Reyes scored with a right footed shot to the lower left hand corner. He was assisted by the other substitute, Gonzalo Higuain. This equalizer seemed to give Real Madrid a significant boost. From that point on, it was "show time" Spanish style. ;-)

Real Madrid continued to push forward, and in the 80th minute, from a corner by Higuain, Mahamadou Diarra headed down precisely into the left corner of the goal. Moya appeared to make the save, but then strangely, pushed the ball against a defender, and the ball went over the goal line. Officially, this was ruled an own goal. Three minutes later, Reyes shot a powerful left-footed shot past Moya to begin the celebrations. But Real Mallorca were not ready to surrender, and there were several fouls, shoves, along with a few yellow cards, on each side before the final whistle blew.

The on-field celebrations were an incredible sight. Players adorned their respective national flags (Brasil, England, Italy, Holland, Mali, and Spain) and paraded around the field. Dancing, hugging each other, and gesturing to their adoring fans who refused to leave the jam-packed Estadio Bernabeu. Then, in an extraordinary gesture, several of the players hoisted Mister Capello up in the air, three times, at the center circle. He was much-maligned this season, but as usual, Don Fabio delivered another championship. Everywhere he has coached, he has won (AC Milan, AS Roma, Juventus FC, and now an encore with Real Madrid CF).

This was the last game for Roberto Carlos in the famous Real Madrid shirt. He has played here for over twelve years, and it was fitting that he should exit as a champion. But the real story was David Beckham. His exit to North America was on the winds of a great personal challenge. Months ago, after his lucrative deal with the LA Galaxy was announced. Fabio Capello, along with team patron Ramon Calderon, decided that Beckham would never appear again in a Real Madrid shirt. Despite this, Beckham continued to train on a daily basis, watch games from the stands, and support his teammates. After a month, the proud Fabio Capello admitted his mistake, and placed Beckham back into the starting eleven. Beckham was a galvanizing force during Madrid's resurgence. "El ingles" won over the Merengue faithful with his four years of dedicated commitment.

For video highlights courtesy of 101 Greatest Goals, please click here and here (the latter is a short clip of Beckham).

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