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Dieguito, el rey de la baldosa

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Dicen en el jerezano Barrio de Santiago, el Harlem del flamenco, que nadie baila mejor bulerías en una baldosa que Diego el de La Margara. Diego Garrido Valencia es todo un personaje, un bailaor auténtico para los puristas del cantejondo y un mito entre los futbolero de la zona. Miembro de una de las sagas más celebradas del flamenco jerezano por parte de madre, alternó baile y fútbol hasta los 16 año, edad en la que aparcó los descampados para probar en un equipo serio como el Flamenco, simbólico nombre de una cantera del fútbol jerezano repleta de futbolistas con duende. Dieguito lo era. Medialuna de pellizco, extremo mentiroso con más fútbol que sudor, militó en el Cádiz durante seis temporadas (1981-87) formando parte de la cuadrilla con más tronío de la historia cadista, y dicen en el barrio de La Viña que del fútbol español: Mágico González, Pepe Mejías, Dieguito, Francis Carmelo… Apóstoles de un fútbol que define el sentir hedonista de los gaditanos. Años divertidos en los que Dieguito pisó “catedrales balompédicas como el Bernabéu, el Camp Nou, Atocha, San Mamés…”. Del Cádiz pasó al Xerez con naturalidad, regateando una rivalidad encarnizada con humildad y desparpajo. Un día lluvioso metió un gol desde el mediocampo en el viejo estadio Domecq. “Estaba todo embarrao y el portero andaba a uvas. Así que me dije: a este le hago yo el lío”. ¡Y vaya si se lo hizo! Aparcó el fútbol y ahora alterna su puesto de bedel en un pabellón municipal de Jerez con las bulerías en una baldosa en el tablao de la peña Tío José de Paula. Como la que bailó aquella noche en la Fiesta de la Bulería, el Wembley del Cante. Se arrancó su prima, La Paquera, la Aretha Franklin del flamenco, y a Diego se le fueron los pies. Sin prisa, con compás, con su patadita bien dá… Diego Garrido Valencia, Dieguito antes, Diego el de La Margara ahora. Un gacho que jugaba al fútbol, “mirando cerca y viendo lejos, recogido, con pellizco”. Como baila, como es…

05.04.14 FC Barcelona v Real Betis

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FC Barcelona maintained their title challenge this Saturday in a rollercoaster win against a spirited Betis side fighting to avoid the drop.  The visitors provided plenty of nervous moments for the Camp Nou fans and were even on top times, but two goals from Leo Messi plus a Jordi Figueras own goal were enough to keep pace with  Atlético Madrid at the top of La Liga.  The players can now turn their attentions to the Champions League. Despite the many distractions provided by the referendum, FC Barcelona started positively, with danger coming in particular from the right wing pairing of Alves and Alexis.  And it was the Chile international who teased Betis defender Jordi Figueras into bringing him down in the penalty box.  Messi stepped up to left foot the spot kick into the centre of the net. Barça’s best phase of the match came immediately after the opening goal.   Xavi, through the middle, and Alves down the right were constant threats for the visitors but Betis fought back stubbornly and persisted in their attempts to catch Barça on the break.  They came up against Sergio Busquets in magnificent form.  The midfielder had a superb first half, tackling, spraying out passes and going past opponents in a masterful display of technique and tactical savvy that had the fans chanting his name. Betis came out after halftime looking to take the game to Barça, spurred on by their desperate situation in the league.  Xavi hit the woodwork but it proved to usher in a period of sustained Betis pressure.  Manager Gabriel Calderón reaffirmed his team’s ambition by bringing on. Jorge Molina and Rubén Castro to join Leo Baptistao in a three-pronged attack. An unfortunate own goal by Jordi Figueras – the same player who conceded the penalty against Alexis in the first half – from Adriano’s cross, threw cold water on the Betis fight back. The game took another twist three minutes later when substitute Rubén Castro made it 2-1 with twenty minutes left to go. Betis pushed hard for the equaliser but inevitably left space at the back, especially for Neymar. The Brazilian forced Amaya into handling the ball in the area and once again Messi took the spot kick.  Betis keeper Adán guessed correctly but Messi seized on the rebound to make it 3-1.

01.04.14 FC Barcelona v Club Atlético de Madrid

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There were no surprises at the Camp Nou tonight  -no surprises in the line ups, in the tactics both teams chose, the way Barça had to work hard to breakdown the visitors’ rock solid and tough tackling defence and in the end, after three draws already this season, no surprise in the result. Diego conjured up a wonder strike from nowhere to give Atletico the lead on 55 minutes, but Barça dug deep and Neymar’s equaliser leaves it all to play for at the Calderon next week. Atletico came flying out of the traps and for the first quarter of an hour, they seemed to have Barça on the rack  – with Villa missing a great chance to put the visitors ahead after just 4 minutes and when Piqué was forced off after a tumble to be replaced by Bartra, things were looking worryingly dangerous for Martino’s side, who despite coming out clearly focussed on the game, were finding it tough to create any kind of threat. After that first quarter of an hour though, Barça forced Atletico to defend ever deeper and began to match their opponents aggression and intensity, as they laid siege to the Atletico box. Messi somehow found a way through a packed defence to free Iniesta on the left of the area, but his shot was blocked by a defender on 25 minutes, Soon after, Diego Costa limped off and with their main attacking reference point missing, Atletico dropped even deeper, always on the lookout for a quick counter, which time and again Busquets was quick to snuff out. The game was now taking on the shape of this season’s earlier match ups, with Barça dominating possession against a tough and stubborn opponent. Chances were few and far between and despite the continuous fouls from Atletico, the game was being played at a frenetic pace. Villa nearly popped up again just before the break, but his effort was well stopped by Pinto. The game continued with Barça controlling possession and tackles flying in from all parts, but Martino’s team were taken by surprise on 55 minutes, when Diego fired home an unstoppable shot from well outside the box after a quick free kick . The crowd upped their volume as they attempted to lift the team and the players responded by moving up a gear, winning the ball, attacking from all angles and producing their best half hour of the game. Martino put three up front on 67 minutes, replacing Cesc with Alexis and Atletico responded by taking Villa off and bringing on Sosa. Neymar now switched wings and moved to the left and on 71 minutes an exquisite pass from Iniesta found the Brazilian cutting in behind the defence to fire home brilliantly past the Atletico keeper for the equaliser, Courtois then proved his worth with some great saves as the Camp Nou crowd roared the team on. In the end tough it was another draw and the prospect of another epic game to come in a week’s time at the Calderon.

26.03.14 FC Barcelona v RC Celta de Vigo

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 After a lightning start to the game as Barça took up from where they left off at the Bernabeu,  a nasty looking injury to Valdes stunned the Camp Nou and although Messi and Neymar ensured the win, the keeper’s injury cast a pall over the celebrations. Luis Enrique made his return to the Camp Nou with a five-man defence that included Fontas as a deep lying midfielder and with an untypical tactic of ceding possession, which allowed Barça to lay siege to the Celta area and reap the benefits within the first five minutes, as a clever move between Iniesta, Messi and Alexis ended with a simple tap in for Neymar. With Iniesta finding plenty of space through the middle to release Messi, Barça were playing elegant and incisive football which created chances for both Neymar and Messi. All the optimism took a blow on 20 minutes however, when Valdes fell awkwardly saving a free kick and immediately called for help in obvious pain, before being stretchered off. The Barça players looked shocked for a while and the rhythm dropped, before Iniesta and Messi brought a smile back to the fans’ faces on the half hour with an inch perfect move that the Argentinean finished off by rounding the keeper to double the lead. Iniesta was replaced by Sergi Roberto as a precaution at half time and with the rain coming down and the players clearly affected by the injury to Valdes, Celta took the chance to step forward after the break and Pinto was called on to make a superb double save on 52 minutes to keep the Galicians out. Cesc was unlucky to have a goal ruled out for offside just before the hour mark, but it was the visitors who looked the more likely to score, until on 67 minutes, Neymar broke down the left into the box and fired through the defenders’ legs to beat the keeper and make it three. Soon after, the Brazilian was replaced by Pedro. There was still time for drama though, as Pinto clattered into a post after a good stop from Bermejo. The crowd held their breath, but the keeper got up and went on to make two more good stops on a night that brought another win, but one tinged wth sadness for Valdes’ injury.

12.03.14 FC Barcelona v Manchester City

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FC Barcelona laid down a marker for the rest of Europe tonight, cruising through to the last eight of the Champions League with a 2-1 win over Manchester City (4-1 on aggregate) with a performance that put to bed the doubts around the team after their weekend league defeat in Valladolid. Javier Mascherano insisted before the game that Barça weren’t down and out and tonight the team proved him right with an important win over one of the strongest teams left in the competition. Both teams are used to dominating possession and City began the game looking much more comfortable on the ball than in the first leg, taking control of the first quarter of an hour before Barça imposed themselves on the game and began to create chances- the clearest of which saw Neymar score, only for the ref to rule it out for a dubious off side against Jordi Alba. In truth though, there weren’t many opportunities for either side in the first half hour – Nasri, then fired straight at Valdes after a great one-two between Silva and Toure and then Neymar had a couple of great chances, but the teams went in goalless at the break. Dzeko came on for a rusty looking Aguero at the break and City looked sharper at the start of the second half, with the Bosnian striker having a couple of opportunities to make it 0-1 early on, with Kolarov and Silva both looking dangerous. Valdes’ saves proved key and Narça hit back with a great chance for Messi, with only the woodwork denying the Argentinean. Both sides were looking for a goal now and the tempo of the game increased as City pushed forward and Barça showed their threat on the break and after Lescott fluffed a through ball from Cesc, Messi pounced to open the scoring and put Barça three up on aggregate. That goal rocked City, who were soon after reduced to ten men after Zabaleta was shown his second yellow for dissent, but the Premier League side showed they could still pose a threat when Kompany bundled the ball home for the equaliser after a knock on by Dzeko from a corner. There was never going to be time left for a shock and Iniesta set up Alves on the counter to ensure the win on the night late on and ensure that Barça go through to the last eight after two impressive wins against City. Mascherano was right – this team are certainly not down and out!

02.03.14 FC Barcelona v UD Almería

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It took until the 83rd minute for Barça to secure the three points against Almeria. The eventual 4-1 win could easily have been achieved in the first half, but some great football was only reflected by two goals, and Almeria managed to grab one of their own to add to the drama. The intensity dipped in the second half, and the win was not decided until Puyol bravely stuck home FCB’s third, with Xavi making it four in the final minutes. A win was more essential than ever after the setback at Anoeta, and the 2-2 draw in the Madrid derby was surely the best result Barça could have wished for, and they now find themselves just one point short of the lead. The evening started well. After just eight minutes, Alexis Sánchez was once again the man to break the deadlock as he extended his excellent goalscoring form this season by pouncing on a rebound off visiting keeper Esteban from a Cesc shot. Barça were playing fast, intense football, and although the finesse was not always there, they looked well in control of the match, especially down the right, where Alves and Alexis were giving full-back Dubarbier a torrid evening. Leo Messi made his mark with an extraordinary goal from a 24th minute free kick, with the ball curving brilliantly to find the precise sport that Esteban was never going to reach. Barça were well in command, but totally against the run of play, Trujillo was able to knock home a corner for Almeria, and incredibly considering the number of chances that had fallen to Neymar, Messi and Alexis, at half time the Andalusians were still in contention. Barça had enjoyed 78% of the possession and shot 14 times in the first 45 minutes. In the second, in which they lost some of their rhythm and struggled to create as many chances, things started to get unnerving. Almeria seemed capable of containing the Barça pressure and also started putting Valdés to the test. Barça desperately needed a goal to settle the result, but Neymar missed an easy chance in the 65th minute, and moments later the visiting defence managed to prevent Messi from scoring a near-certain goal. The Argentinian had had a quiet second half, but burst back into life in the final quarter of an hour. Iniesta came on in the 70th minute, which helped to retain the ball in midfield and generate more ideas up front. And the third goal finally came in the 83rd minute, with Messi out-jumping his marker to head the ball onto the bar, whereupon it fell to Puyol, who volleyed it into the back of the net. The Camp Nou could breathe again and started chanting the captain’s name. And to round off a nervy night, Xavi then scored a stunner from outside of the area to set up the final scoreline of 4-1 and ensure three absolutely crucial points for Barça’s title bid.

12.11.13 Barcelona v Celtic

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Barça only needed a point to clinch top place in their Champions League group, but did much more than against a Celtic side that was only playing for pride but was instead played off the park by an intense, ambitious display from the Catalans. After going into an early 1-0 lead and with the win already as good as settled by half-time, Barça were able to play for the crowd and regain some lost confidence, with hat-trick hero Neymar on stunning form. It was two minutes before Celtic had even touched the ball at the Camp Nou. Barça were passing it around with ease, and were soon creating problem after problem for Forster to deal with. And that was how things would stay for most of the ninety minutes, as has been the case so often in the past against the Scottish champions, who as usual opted for a highly defensive game-plan. But this time, Barça broke the deadlock early doors. After just six minutes, an opportunist Piqué pounced on the rebound after Alexis had found himself one-on-one on the keeper. 1-0. Barça had all the possession, and even though they were losing, Celtic preferred to keep it tight at the back and speculate with the occasional counter-attack or dead-ball situation. All this served to do was create a Barça onslaught on their area, although the home side were lacking the speed and definition to turn their dominance into further goals. Busquets was outstanding, Sergi Roberto and Xavi were feeding balls from all angles, and Alexis, Neymar and Pedro were all getting involved with spectacular bicycle kicks and all the works. The worrying thing, however, is that it wasn’t until the 39th minute that they finally found the net a second time, with Neymar starting the move and Pedro finishing it off. Moments later came the play of the match. Some wonderful first touch football among the midfielders ended with the ball reaching Alexis, who subtly chipped it through to Montoya. The defender could have shot himself, but instead laid on a perfect assist for Neymar. There had only really been one team on the pitch in a first half that ended 3-0. Neymar’s first ever goal in the Champions league was just the boost he needed. In the second half, he scored another peach of a goal on the back of yet another terrific combination move. For the rest of the game, Barça restrained themselves from showboating too much, knowing that this has cost them dearly in the past and that one of the most important aspects that they need to improve is holding onto leads. But there was little chance of tonight’s lead slipping away. On a freezing evening, the Camp Nou was soon chanting the name of Neymar as he went on to complete his first hat-trick in a Barça shirt. It was yet another move initiated by a flash of genius from a defender, followed by a delightful one-two to make it 5-0. A rare Barça attempt at a long ball, by Mascherano, almost led to Neymar getting his fourth of the night, but Pedro was caught offside and the move was invalidated.Tello marked his return to the team by grabbing the sixth and final goal of the night with a shot that rebounded off a defender and left Forster with no chance. But it was thanks to the Celtic keeper that Neymar failed to add any more goals to his account. As the game drew to a close, we finally started seeing a bit more life in Celtic, with Samaras heading home a consolation goal and coming close to adding a couple more. But by this stage, Barça’s biggest heroes of the night, Busquets and Neymar, were already resting on the bench. The Camp Nou gave both the ovation they deserved and was able to celebrate qualification for the last sixteen as group leaders. The Champions League returns in February, and on Monday, Barça will be finding what team they’ll be playing.

06.11.13 Barcelona v Milan

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Leo Messi  led FC Barcelona into the last 16 of the Champions League with the opening and final goals against Milan at the Camp Nou tonight. The first was a penalty and the second from a lovely move with Cesc. With Busquets grabbing one more in between the Argentinean’s brace,  Milan could only reply with a Piqué own goal just before the break. The three points ensure Barça are mathematically through to the last 16 of the competition, sitting five points ahead of Milan, who stay in second place. Massimiliano Allegri was true to his words on Tuesday and set up his team with a clear defensive attitude, with 9 or 10 players crammed into the final third of the pitch, Milan were happy to sit deep and wait for Barça from the off. And just as they had in San Siro, Kaká found it tough to find the space they need to create chances, as the Italians booted away possession to the hosts without ever venturing into  the Barça half. Barça weren’t making clear chances, but they kept plugging away and when Iniesta carved out a great opening for Neymar, Abate brought the Brazilian down in the box for Messi to step up and fire home the penalty for the opening goal. Barça continued to dominate possession with Xavi and Iniesta hogging the ball, whilst Neymar provided the spark – again suffering a foul that led to a goal, with Xavi crossing a free kick in for Busquets  – enjoying a great game -to head home  and double Barça’s lead. Just as the half looked like ending comfortably, Barça conceded a goal when Kaká crossed from the left and Piqué’s attempted clearance flew into the net – a goal that recalled one against Osasuna in Pamplona a couple of years ago. The goal came just on half time and was a psychological boost to Milan. With Balotelli on after the break, and with Kaká pulling the strings, Milan were now looking more ambitious – which also of course left them more vulnerable at the back. The game was opening up now, with chances – which weren’t taken – at both ends. Barça then imposed a more measured pace to the game and Iniesta brought a good save from  Abbiati  before Neymar nearly broughtthe house down with a great individual effort, beating four defenders before shooting high. Alexis could also have made it three, but it was Messi who rounded off the scoring, latching onto a  brilliant one-two with Cesc  – who’d come on for Iniesta  – to fire home and ensure a spot in the last 16.

01.11.13 Barcelona v Espanyol

The day after roast chestnuts and Halloween, FC Barcelona took all three points from the local derby with Espanyol. The game was decided by a Neymar assist for an Alexis Sánchez who is enjoying his finest season yet for the club. The Chilean had already played a key role in the clásico and in Tuesday’s game in Vigo, and once again found the back of the net in this bank holiday encounter. Thanks to him, a more passive and practical Barça than we are used to seeing were able to claim another full set of three points. In total, that’s now an astonishing 34 out of 36. FC Barcelona did all they could in the first half, but got nothing out of it. They were superior in every aspect of the game and completely dominated the possession but simply couldn’t find a way through the superbly compact defense deployed by Javier Aguirre. Espanyol simply held their lines at the back and looked for loose opportunities to mount the occasional counter attack. The only place where Barça did seem to be finding gaps was down Alves’ wing, with the Brazilian giving Torje a nightmare of an evening, but never quite managing to get his crosses to connect. Alves was also the protagonist of two incidents, one at either end of the pitch, in the space of little more than a minute. In the FCB area, a misunderstanding with Valdés almost gifted a goal to ex Barça man Víctor Sánchez, but Valdés saved the day by pulling off a tremendous save. Moments later, Alves tried to make amends with a powerful strike from the edge of the Espanyol area, but the ball struck the post. The game reached half-time scoreless, but with no major reason for alarm among the Barça ranks. And in the second half they finally sorted things out. The football was a lot slicker and electric than it had been in the fitrst 45 minutes as Barça stepped things up a gear in search of the Espanyol net. It looked like Messi had scored from a header, but Casilla pulled off an absolutely extraordinary save, and Neymar also came close from outside the area. The ball just didn’t seem to want to go in. But Espanyol’s luck didn’t last forever. In the 67th minute, a delightful assist from Neymar, nutmegging both Raúl Rodríguez and Sidnei in the process, gifted a virtual tap-in for Alexis Sánchez, who was waiting unmarked at the far post. The two men who scored in the clásico had done it again. The goal obliged Espanyol to push forward in search of a leveller, and the last twenty minutes saw plenty of action at both ends of the pitch, but there was no further score. We certainly didn’t see Barça at their best tonight, and Espanyol produced a plucky performance, but nevertheless there is little doubt that the it was a thoroughly deserved win for the home side, whose unbeaten record continues.

24.09.13 Barcelona v Real Sociedad

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Barça have equalled the club’s best ever start to a Liga campaign by making it six wins out of six after a brilliant 4-1 win against Real Sociedad. And it all happened on the day that the city was celebrating its patron saint, the Mercè festival, and in emphatic style. The first 22 minutes saw a barrage of goals from Neymar, Messi and Busquets, and from then on it was complete dominance from the home side, with the visitor’s solitary goal doing nothing to worry the Camp Nou faithful. Nevertheless, things had got off to an alarming start. In the first minute, Seferovic struck the Barça bar, and Mascherano, who ended up being substituted on the half hour, ended up grounded after being accidentally stamped on by Busquets. But having avoided that early warning call, the Catalans regrouped and set about dominating their guests in every facet of the game. Real were forced back into their own half and the chances started flowing. Neymar was outstanding with his penetrating runs from the left, and Iniesta was plethoric in an aggressive, dominant midfield in which Xavi and Busquets read every play to perfection. It was the Brazilian who first found the net after just four minutes when he pounced on a moment of uncertainty between visiting goalkeeper Bravo and his colleague Cadamuro. Just five minutes later, the same man Neymar left two men stranded before crossing for Messi to grab the second. Barça’s attacking machine was on full throttle, and the play was developing at a frantic pace. Real Sociedad looked lost, and matters weren’t helped for them when their captain Xabi Prieto went off injured after 22 minutes, to be ambitiously replaced by Aguirretxe. Busquets soon made it 3-0 with a strike from outside the area, moments after Messi had hit the bar. Barça were combining to absolute perfection, and the fans even celebrated the chances that went begging, so impressive was the footballing display before them. And even though he had very little to do this evening, the crowd also started chanting the name of Víctor Valdés in recognition of the crucial saves he’s made in recent matches. Barça weren’t holding up, and despite their healthy lead, most of the play was still deep inside the Real Sociedad half – and after the break, Messi and Neymar continued searching for further goals. Real hadn’t exactly done much to contribute to the Camp Nou’s anniversary, but did manage to grab a consolation goal after 63 minutes through De la Bella. Barça responded in precisely the right way. With only two goals in it, they slowed the pace and started taking fewer risks. Not only that, but tiredness was clearly setting in, just as Real, encouraged by the goal, starting counter attacking with increasingly greater effect as they fought to somehow find a way back into the match. They played with courage, but it was still Barça who were in command, and not too many people in the Camp Nou were worried that the game wasn’t going to end in anything other than a home win. Any hint of uncertainty soon vanished in the 75th minute Bartra, looking every bit the forward, converted a Messi cross to make it 4-1. That as good as brought the night’s activities to a conclusion, and Martino decided to bring off both Neymar and Messi for some well-earned rest. Alexis was left to run the frontline alone, and really deserved a goal in the final seconds, but his header struck the post. All in all, it was another tremendous performance from FC Barcelona, and it’s now six wins out of six in La Liga.