Real Madrid host Valencia as Bernabéu awaits River-Boca
Real Madrid host Valencia today in a big-name clash, one that finds us still digesting the news that the Bernabéu is to hold the Copa Libertadores final in eight days' time. As the always contentious issue of who gets how many tickets was sorted out yesterday, there were voices of dissent on either side of the pond over the choice. Some in Argentina are now calling it the 'Copa Conquistadores', and, in a reference requiring little interpretation, quipping that Spain's desire to take the trophy to the Iberian Peninsula is only natural, given their penchant for shiny trinkets. Here, meanwhile, there are those who are against staging the final of a cup in whose name they see an implied rejection of Spain and all things Spanish.
I can understand why there is anger in Argentina, but then again: if River-Boca is being held in Madrid it's because it couldn't be played in Buenos Aires. And because there are more ex-pat Argentinians in Spain - a quarter of a million - than any other country in the world. As for the name, yes: when the tournament was founded in 1960, it was chosen because it was a word that spoke for South America as a whole. But Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín, two of the continent's Libertadores-in-chief, both have statues dedicated to them in Madrid, and the wars of yesteryear have given way to good relations across the Spanish-speaking world. I think this is an excellent solution for a final that had rather got itself stuck up a creek.
Madrid and Valencia both desperate for the points
But first things first: this evening sees Madrid face a Valencia side who started the season poorly (with Dani Parejo and, above all, Geoffrey Kondogbia well short of last year's form, and Rodrigo Moreno unable to hit a barn door), but who remain assured at the back and have been on the up since Santi Mina began to give them the goals they badly lacked. Madrid, whose coach, Santi Solari, is unhappy with all the Isco talk, just can't get into their stride - and have very little margin for error left in LaLiga. For Valencia, it's also a crucial game: they need to make the top four, and with that in mind are out to leapfrog their hosts tonight. It should be a good game, one that certainly merits taking our eyes off River-Boca for a day at least.