Barcelona-Real Madrid games should provide good drama

It is a soccer drama in four acts, played out over 18 days and with the outcome entirely unpredictable.

Act 2 is set for Wednesday in Valencia, Spain, where Barcelona and Real Madrid square off in a much-anticipated final of the Copa del Rey.

Act 1 took place Saturday in Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu stadium, where Barcelona outplayed Real Madrid but had to settle for a 1-1 tie in a Spanish league game result that virtually assured Barcelona of a third consecutive league title.

Wednesday's game (ESPN Deportes and Gol TV, 12:30 p.m. PDT) gives Real Madrid a chance to claim some silverware in 2011 by winning the Spanish Cup for the first time since 1993. Barcelona last won the trophy in 2009.

Acts 3 and 4 will be played out over the next two weeks when the same clubs meet in a semifinal of the European Champions League. Real Madrid will be home for the first leg, on April 27, and Barcelona will stage the second game, on May 3.

The rivalry between Spain's two soccer giants has drawn worldwide attention, especially with these four games so close together and each so meaningful.

In the aftermath of Saturday's game, one of Real Madrid's legends, 84-year-old Alfredo Di Stefano, unleashed a blistering attack on his own team.

"Barcelona's soccer in the Bernabeu was simply brilliant," Di Stefano wrote in the Spanish sports daily Marca. "Its superiority was there for the whole planet to see.

"Madrid was a team without personality. The decision to try to play Barcelona on the counterattack was clearly not the right one. Barcelona plays soccer and dances while Madrid just runs back and forth constantly, tiring itself out."

Strong words, and the fact that they come from the club's honorary president, a man who won one world championship, five European championships and eight Spanish championships while playing for Real Madrid, makes them even more difficult to ignore.

How Real Madrid's players will respond Wednesday will be intriguing to see.

The respective coaches have taken different tacks as they head for Valencia.

Real Madrid Coach Jose Mourinho was as angry as Di Stefano after Saturday's game, but his anger was directed more toward the referee than toward his players. He was particularly incensed that defender Raul Albiol was red-carded for a foul that allowed Lionel Messi to score from a penalty kick and that Barcelona's Dani Alves was not ejected for a foul that resulted in Cristiano Ronaldo's late score-tying penalty kick.

"It was a very balanced game when we were playing 11 against 11," Mourinho said. "Barca is the best team in the world at holding on to the ball. With 11 against 10, they were able to do what they wanted."

Lost in this argument was that Real Madrid tied the score when it was playing a man down.

Mourinho questioned whether any team gets a fair break when playing Barcelona.

"I would like to play one day against Barcelona with 11 men," he said. "I would really like to, but I know that in Spain and in Europe that is mission impossible."

Barcelona Coach Josep Guardiola has opted not to stir the waters.

"Mourinho is a good coach, but I would never permit myself to give tactical opinions on the work of a colleague," he said.

Meanwhile, UEFA, European soccer's governing body, will decide Wednesday whether to ban Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta from the first leg of the Champions League semifinal.

The contention by game officials who worked the Barcelona-Shakhtar Donetsk Champion League quarterfinal game was that Iniesta purposely got himself a yellow card in the first leg of that series so he could serve a suspension in the second leg and have a clean sheet going into the semifinals.

If that argument prevails, UEFA could extend the ban by another game, meaning that Iniesta, who scored the World Cup-winning goal for Spain against the Netherlands last summer and who is a key player for Barcelona, would have to sit out the April 27 game at Real Madrid.

Barcelona on Tuesday appealed against any such extended ban.

All in all, Wednesday should provide an intriguing Act 2, with more to come.

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