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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Barcelona beat Real Madrid 2-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu

 
FULL-TIME! Barcelona defeat Real Madrid 2-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu. The home team went into half-time a goal to the good courtesy of Ronaldo's early strike yet second-half finishes from Puyol and Abidal give Barca the advantage heading into the second-leg. All still to play for though after what was another brilliant Clasico meeting.
 

Real Madrid v Barcelona

Full time: Real Madrid 1-2 Barcelona. And there is the final whistle. That all turned rather nasty in the end, with Real reacting to the Barcelona goals by kicking anything that dared to move.
90 min+2: Carvalho, already on a booking, should be off. He's just scythed through Adriano on the edge of the area, bringing him down, but the referee played the advantage. Madrid have become an abject rabble in the second half.
90 min: There will be three more minutes of this. Real have run out of ideas, not that they had too many to begin with. "In your early team news you describe Pepe as 'moving into his old stomping ground in midfield'," says Gilad McAteer. "Pity you misspelled 'on Messi's limbs' as 'in midfield'."
89 min: Cesc Fabregas goes off, Isaac Cuenca comes on.
87 min: This game is descending into filth now. Messi speeds away from Carvalho, who just boots him in the side of the leg. What a clown. He's booked too. This is why some people can't stand Mourinho.
86 min: The exciting Thiago comes on for Xavi, who was as stately as ever.
85 min: "For at least a few more minutes, there's a video on YouTube of Pepe standing on Messi's hands," says David Price. "You can see at about 5sec Pepe clearly looks down to see where his feet are and then plants one of them down sharpish onto Leo's hand."
83 min: Paulo Padilha points me to Wayne Rooney criticising Pepe on Twitter. Then again, he's one to talk.
82 min: Alexis Sanchez is replaced by Adriano. Moments later, Benzema cuts in from the left and slashes well wide from long range. He's not done much tonight, though he's been marginally more involved than Higuain. "Is Pepe the player Mourinho might have been?" ponders Steve Peake.
80 min: At last, Pepe is withdrawn and replaced by Esteban Granero. About time.
79 min: Puyol is booked for dissent, claiming he should have had a foul after being outdone by Ronaldo. Possibly, but the referee, who's had an excellent game, waved play on. Nothing came from it ultimately, despite a bit of panic in the Barcelona area.
GOAL! Real Madrid 1-2 Barcelona (Abidal, 77 min): Puyol scoring was strange enough, but this one is a real collector's item. Messi, who has done bugger all for the most part, shifts the ball on to his left foot and curls a magnificent pass through to Abidal, who's tiptoed forward from full-back. Forgive Real for not noticing him. The flag stays down despite their protestations, Abidal chests it down and then, with the outside of his left foot, he strokes an absurdly cool finish low past Casillas and into the bottom-right corner as if he's been doing it all his life.
76 min: Altintop has - eventually - had a very good game against Iniesta, standing up well to him whenever the Barcelona genius tries to take him on. "To deal with the likes of Pepe, UEFA should introduce an additional official whose job would be to judge the quality of acting by the players," says Mark Elliott. "The official would be from the local equivalent of RADA and would be allowed to issue yellow or red cards based on the quality of the performance."
74 min: The more I see it, the more it looks like Pepe intentionally stepped on Messi's hand. Aside from how cowardly it is, it's so dangerous - wearing studs, he could have done some genuine damage.
71 min: Sanchez hares through on goal and goes round Casillas, but a really tight offside decision goes in Real's favour. It was the right call. "Ok, that's it," says J.R. "Pepe is the worst."
71 min: Iniesta glides past four Real players - he is the best player on the pitch tonight by some distance - and then rolls it into the path of Messi, whose touch is uncharacteristically heavy, allowing Coentrao to stem the danger.
69 min: What a terrible miss from Busquets. Another Xavi set-piece, this time a free-kick from the left, causes havoc in the Real area, but Busquets heads just over when it was easier to score. Guardiola puffs out his cheeks. He can hardly believe it.
68 min: Callejon's first act on the pitch is to stop Messi on full flight and gets booked. With Messi on the floor, Pepe stands on his hands. He may well have done that on purpose. Pepe does not belong on a football pitch.
67 min: Hands up - did anyone see Higuain touch the ball?
66 min: I've just realised Higuain was playing. I genuinely don't think he touched the ball once. The only reason I mention him now is because he's been replaced by Callejon. Mesut Ozil is also on for Diarra. Real are going for it now.
64 min: Pepe is an embarrassment. A total disgrace. Fabregas muscles him off the ball on the right, brushing his arm into his chest. Pepe goes down like he's been punched in the face by Manny Pacquiao. Barcelona attack, but with Pepe rolling about, they eventually knock it out of play.
60 min: Sanchez teases his way past Coentrao on the right side of the area and then coaxes a low cross across the face of the Real goal. No one's there. It comes to Iniesta, but on the stretch, his tame volley loops away from goal and Casillas claims it easily.
59 min: Coentrao is booked for clattering into the back of the rather quiet Messi on the right. "Ray Hudson has always been a polarizing character in the commentator's booth," says Jonathan Nebel. "Personally, I absolutely love him. Him and Phil Schoen are by far my favorite commentary crew. To each his own, I guess."
58 min: Now Real hit the post. This is probably the first piece of sustained pressure they have managed throughout the game, as the ball is worked out to Altintop on the right. He twists and turns, befuddling Abidal enough to hang up a cross to the far post where the unmarked Benzema heads against the outside of the post from eight yards out.
55 min: Bingo II! Busquets is booked for stopping a free-kick being taken quickly. Peek-a-boo just can't help himself.
54 min: Great defending from Ramos stops Iniesta from giving Barcelona the lead. Fabregas scoops a glorious pass over the Real defence - think Scholes v Milan in 2007 - and Iniesta runs on to it, volleys towards the far corner, only for Ramos to somehow get back and deflect it on to the near post with an outstretched leg. Casillas was a mere spectator as that all unfolded.
53 min: The problem that Real are presented with is that they basically only have one way of scoring: on the break. That's a very random method, seeing as it essentially needs a perfect situation for it to be achieved - Barcelona losing the ball in the first place and there being enough space.
50 min: Ramos is booked for a nasty little swipe at Sanchez, who had completely left him for dead with a slick turn on the halfway line. It's hotting up a bit here. "In the history of over the top, say the first thing that comes into your outbox commentators who know absolutely nothing, Ray Hudson is all that and a bag of chips WITH a Geordie accent," says Gareth Holden. "I know he probably makes good money but I bet he'd make billions as a darts commentator. My only consolation is that he isn't Tommy "Bulging Onion Bag" Smyth. RMA to win 5-2 YAHOOOOO!" I don't know, I quite like him, he pushes boundaries.
GOAL! Real Madrid 1-1 Barcelona (Puyol, 49 min): Forget tiki-taka, sometimes you just need a bit of bish and a bit of bosh. Iniesta wins a corner off Altintop on the left. Xavi takes it, curling it into the area and Puyol gets the run on Pepe and powers a stunning diving header low past Casillas, much like his winner for Spain in the 2010 World Cup semi-final against Germany. Stoke themselves would have been proud of that.
47 min: A one-two. Messi. Fabregas. The former Arsenal man gets to the left byline and wheeches a cross back into the area, but Ramos is on hand to deal with it. If only Barcelona had Michael Owen.
46 min: We're off again, Real getting the second half underway. There's the kick-off. Will they see the ball again? No, they keep it for all of three seconds before Benzema kicks it out for a throw. Dear me. It's almost as if Mourinho is trying to mimic his tactics with Inter in 2010.

Copa del Rey, quarter-final first leg, Santiago Bernabéu, 9pm GMT kick-off

Real Madrid v Barcelona – live!

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Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo
Easy tiger. Photograph: Stringer/Spain/Reuters
Full time: Real Madrid 1-2 Barcelona. And there is the final whistle. That all turned rather nasty in the end, with Real reacting to the Barcelona goals by kicking anything that dared to move.
90 min+2: Carvalho, already on a booking, should be off. He's just scythed through Adriano on the edge of the area, bringing him down, but the referee played the advantage. Madrid have become an abject rabble in the second half.
90 min: There will be three more minutes of this. Real have run out of ideas, not that they had too many to begin with. "In your early team news you describe Pepe as 'moving into his old stomping ground in midfield'," says Gilad McAteer. "Pity you misspelled 'on Messi's limbs' as 'in midfield'."
89 min: Cesc Fabregas goes off, Isaac Cuenca comes on.
87 min: This game is descending into filth now. Messi speeds away from Carvalho, who just boots him in the side of the leg. What a clown. He's booked too. This is why some people can't stand Mourinho.
86 min: The exciting Thiago comes on for Xavi, who was as stately as ever.
85 min: "For at least a few more minutes, there's a video on YouTube of Pepe standing on Messi's hands," says David Price. "You can see at about 5sec Pepe clearly looks down to see where his feet are and then plants one of them down sharpish onto Leo's hand."
83 min: Paulo Padilha points me to Wayne Rooney criticising Pepe on Twitter. Then again, he's one to talk.
82 min: Alexis Sanchez is replaced by Adriano. Moments later, Benzema cuts in from the left and slashes well wide from long range. He's not done much tonight, though he's been marginally more involved than Higuain. "Is Pepe the player Mourinho might have been?" ponders Steve Peake.
80 min: At last, Pepe is withdrawn and replaced by Esteban Granero. About time.
79 min: Puyol is booked for dissent, claiming he should have had a foul after being outdone by Ronaldo. Possibly, but the referee, who's had an excellent game, waved play on. Nothing came from it ultimately, despite a bit of panic in the Barcelona area.
GOAL! Real Madrid 1-2 Barcelona (Abidal, 77 min): Puyol scoring was strange enough, but this one is a real collector's item. Messi, who has done bugger all for the most part, shifts the ball on to his left foot and curls a magnificent pass through to Abidal, who's tiptoed forward from full-back. Forgive Real for not noticing him. The flag stays down despite their protestations, Abidal chests it down and then, with the outside of his left foot, he strokes an absurdly cool finish low past Casillas and into the bottom-right corner as if he's been doing it all his life.
76 min: Altintop has - eventually - had a very good game against Iniesta, standing up well to him whenever the Barcelona genius tries to take him on. "To deal with the likes of Pepe, UEFA should introduce an additional official whose job would be to judge the quality of acting by the players," says Mark Elliott. "The official would be from the local equivalent of RADA and would be allowed to issue yellow or red cards based on the quality of the performance."
74 min: The more I see it, the more it looks like Pepe intentionally stepped on Messi's hand. Aside from how cowardly it is, it's so dangerous - wearing studs, he could have done some genuine damage.
71 min: Sanchez hares through on goal and goes round Casillas, but a really tight offside decision goes in Real's favour. It was the right call. "Ok, that's it," says J.R. "Pepe is the worst."
71 min: Iniesta glides past four Real players - he is the best player on the pitch tonight by some distance - and then rolls it into the path of Messi, whose touch is uncharacteristically heavy, allowing Coentrao to stem the danger.
69 min: What a terrible miss from Busquets. Another Xavi set-piece, this time a free-kick from the left, causes havoc in the Real area, but Busquets heads just over when it was easier to score. Guardiola puffs out his cheeks. He can hardly believe it.
68 min: Callejon's first act on the pitch is to stop Messi on full flight and gets booked. With Messi on the floor, Pepe stands on his hands. He may well have done that on purpose. Pepe does not belong on a football pitch.
67 min: Hands up - did anyone see Higuain touch the ball?
66 min: I've just realised Higuain was playing. I genuinely don't think he touched the ball once. The only reason I mention him now is because he's been replaced by Callejon. Mesut Ozil is also on for Diarra. Real are going for it now.
64 min: Pepe is an embarrassment. A total disgrace. Fabregas muscles him off the ball on the right, brushing his arm into his chest. Pepe goes down like he's been punched in the face by Manny Pacquiao. Barcelona attack, but with Pepe rolling about, they eventually knock it out of play.
60 min: Sanchez teases his way past Coentrao on the right side of the area and then coaxes a low cross across the face of the Real goal. No one's there. It comes to Iniesta, but on the stretch, his tame volley loops away from goal and Casillas claims it easily.
59 min: Coentrao is booked for clattering into the back of the rather quiet Messi on the right. "Ray Hudson has always been a polarizing character in the commentator's booth," says Jonathan Nebel. "Personally, I absolutely love him. Him and Phil Schoen are by far my favorite commentary crew. To each his own, I guess."
58 min: Now Real hit the post. This is probably the first piece of sustained pressure they have managed throughout the game, as the ball is worked out to Altintop on the right. He twists and turns, befuddling Abidal enough to hang up a cross to the far post where the unmarked Benzema heads against the outside of the post from eight yards out.
55 min: Bingo II! Busquets is booked for stopping a free-kick being taken quickly. Peek-a-boo just can't help himself.
54 min: Great defending from Ramos stops Iniesta from giving Barcelona the lead. Fabregas scoops a glorious pass over the Real defence - think Scholes v Milan in 2007 - and Iniesta runs on to it, volleys towards the far corner, only for Ramos to somehow get back and deflect it on to the near post with an outstretched leg. Casillas was a mere spectator as that all unfolded.
53 min: The problem that Real are presented with is that they basically only have one way of scoring: on the break. That's a very random method, seeing as it essentially needs a perfect situation for it to be achieved - Barcelona losing the ball in the first place and there being enough space.
50 min: Ramos is booked for a nasty little swipe at Sanchez, who had completely left him for dead with a slick turn on the halfway line. It's hotting up a bit here. "In the history of over the top, say the first thing that comes into your outbox commentators who know absolutely nothing, Ray Hudson is all that and a bag of chips WITH a Geordie accent," says Gareth Holden. "I know he probably makes good money but I bet he'd make billions as a darts commentator. My only consolation is that he isn't Tommy "Bulging Onion Bag" Smyth. RMA to win 5-2 YAHOOOOO!" I don't know, I quite like him, he pushes boundaries.
GOAL! Real Madrid 1-1 Barcelona (Puyol, 49 min): Forget tiki-taka, sometimes you just need a bit of bish and a bit of bosh. Iniesta wins a corner off Altintop on the left. Xavi takes it, curling it into the area and Puyol gets the run on Pepe and powers a stunning diving header low past Casillas, much like his winner for Spain in the 2010 World Cup semi-final against Germany. Stoke themselves would have been proud of that.
47 min: A one-two. Messi. Fabregas. The former Arsenal man gets to the left byline and wheeches a cross back into the area, but Ramos is on hand to deal with it. If only Barcelona had Michael Owen.
46 min: We're off again, Real getting the second half underway. There's the kick-off. Will they see the ball again? No, they keep it for all of three seconds before Benzema kicks it out for a throw. Dear me. It's almost as if Mourinho is trying to mimic his tactics with Inter in 2010.
Half-time emails.
"I'm watching the game via a dubious (but completely legal) source that has led me to something called 'GolTV'," says Matt Wilde. "The commentary team is comprised of a half-drunk Georgie and his overly enthusiastic American counterpart. According to the Geordie, Barca are playing "impressively well", whilst the American has put forth such gems as, "Iniesta, checking the mirror", "Barca putting the rubik's cube together" and "Real moving within 35 yards of Barca". Does anyone know who these post-ironic geniuses are? And can anyone tell me what a "little dagger ball" is?" I've heard about him, though I've never followed a game with him obviously.
"I agree with earlier comment concerning Ray Hudson: over the course of this game he has referred to Iker Casillas as a "junglecat" and a Busquets tackle as "peanut butter on a meatbone." Dubious," says Hamish Ballantyne. The man's a maverick, let him be.
Half time: George Graham's Arsenal 1-0 Barcelona.
Peep! Peep! The half-time whistle blows. The last time Real Madrid led Barcelona at half time was 7 May 2008.
45 min: Fabregas slices a dreadful shot miles over from 30 yards out. This Barcelona front three is still not entirely convincing. For me, they miss the width that Pedro and David Villa - who is admittedly injured - gave them last season. At the moment, too much is going through the middle and with Dani Alves below-par, Real can squeeze them.
42 min: The linesman is having a bit of a shocker, now wrongly deciding Messi was offside.
41 min: It tends to get forgotten these days, but Ricardo Carvalho is an awesome defender. With Messi bursting into the area on the left after a one-two with Xavi, the Portuguese defender times his tackle to absolute perfection to prevent what was in all probability a certain equaliser.
40 min: Xavi plays a slide-rule pass through the middle for Sanchez. Coentrao is playing him onside, but the flag goes up. A bad decision, the linesman tricked by Ramos's arm going up.
39 min: It's become a little bit scrappy these last few minutes. I wonder what's going on at Molineux.
36 min: Every time Real win it back, Ronaldo has so much room on the left and they're finding him with regularity. With Dani Alves romping off down the other end, don't be surprised if Ronaldo creates another goal on the counter.
33 min: Casillas is quick off his line and out of his area, leaping through the air like an ersatz John Terry to clear with a diving header as Fabregas tried to reach yet another through-ball. Moments later, Fabregas is away again, but his curved beauty of a cross is a waste, with Messi flagged offside in the middle.
32 min: Sanchez catches Pepe's standing leg, so the midfielder throws himself to the ground. What a piece of work. The whistles grow louder, but there's no card. "My guess is that Madrid will win," says Cecilia Marjakangas. "No matter. Champions League is the only one I care about as a Culé and I love all the different, weird formations and the B team players fielded for Barcelona so the trophies don't matter half as much. I'm disappointed though that Masche's not playing. He's an awesome defender and while he's not a natural centre-back, he's still faster than either Puyol or Pique and reads the game well. Oh well."
29 min: Barcelona miss another chance. It surely can't stay 1-0 for long, because they are tearing Real to shreds at the moment. A pass straight through the middle finds Sanchez in the area. He could turn and shoot, but instead lays it off perfectly to Iniesta. Astonishingly for him, his first touch takes him wide, but he should still score, only to blast high and wide from six yards out as Casillas closes him down. That is a woeful miss. On the touchline, birthday boy Pep holds his head in his hands.
27 min: Messi threads an eye-of-the-needle pass from the middle through to Iniesta on the left, where Barcelona are getting some real joy. Altintop is no right-back. Real cry for offside but it's not even close, but with Fabregas all alone in the middle, Iniesta can't find him. Still, this is starting to look ominous for the hosts.
26 min: The first sight of goal for Messi. He's sprung clear down the inside-left channel, Altintop nowhere to be seen. With Madrid all over the shop, Messi slams a low left-footer towards the near post from an angle, bring the best out of Casillas again. Real lead, but only thanks to the woodwork and some fine goalkeeping.
25 min: What an escape for Barcelona. Ronaldo really has the bit between his teeth tonight. He looks like he's trying to win over the Madrid public tonight with all his chasing and harrying, which this time leads to him racing clear down the left again. Instead of just going in a straight line, he tries to slide it to the right for Benzema, but Abidal just gets in the way.
24 min: Coentrao has to be alert to stop Fabregas breaking through after a snappy one-two with Sanchez on the edge of the area.
22 min: Ronaldo is now getting some spray on his leg after getting a knock to the back of his knee. He'll be fine. Say what you like about Ronaldo, but he is a remarkably tough player. "Despite our differences I am sure that we can all agree that history has brought us, in a culmination of evolution and myriad transformations through recorded time, to a place where we can say, together in common humanity, that Pepe is the worst," says Jonathan Shaw.
20 min: It's starting. Both sets of players are crowding the referee after Pepe goes down after being caught by a flailing arm from Pique. There really wasn't much in that, though it was probably painful. Pique is booked to both Real's and Barcelona's fury.
17 min: Bingo! Pepe has been booked inside 20 minutes for trodding Busquets' foot. For once, Busquets has an excuse to roll around. "For those of us in the US "eating at the Hawksmoor" these days, Ray Hudson doing the commentary on Gol TV is like having Benny Hill as your ever-excitable waiter," parps Justin Kavanagh. "With a Geordie accent."
16 min: Sanchez hits the bar with a wonderful header. From 40 yards out, Xavi spotted his run and clipped a sublime pass over the top. It looked like there was nothing he could do with it, but he gets in between Ramos and Coentrao and loops a header over the statuesque Casillas and on to the face of the bar.
14 min: Barcelona come back looking for an equaliser straight away. Iniesta diddles past Altintop on the left side of the area, cuts inside and brings a save out of Casillas at his near post. The corner comes to nothing, as you knew it would.
13 min: It's worth pointing out that Barcelona have gone behind in their last two visits to the Bernabeu and have come back to draw 2-2 and win 3-1. "We're baby sitting the next door neighbours daughter tonight which means I'm having to watch the FA Cup game in the kitchen while they monopolise the Sky box," says Ian Burch. "While it may not have the allure of the cup game in Spain, it does have comedy World Cup referee Howard Webb who has denied the Blues a blatant penalty. It also has Mick McCarthy looking bewildered at Ebanks-Blake inability to score from 2 yards, but that's all it has going for it mind."
GOAL! Real Madrid 1-0 Barcelona (Ronaldo, 11 min): Here, Mourinho's gameplan is working. Barcelona lose the ball deep in Real's half and Benzema picks up possession near the centre circle. He immediately slides Ronaldo away down the left with a great pass, the forward one-on-one with Pique. He - of course - pulls out a couple of stepovers, advances into the area, shifts it on to his left foot and then hammers a low drive through Pinto's legs. Valdes would have saved that.
9 min: "I still like the Stoke line," pleads Andy Waddington. "Its not so much whether they can win at Stoke - I'm sure they would win 9 out of 10. It's a question of Stoke away in mid-week and then El Clasico on Saturday lunchtime. We'd soon hear Pep asking who decides the fixtures and moaning about big-spending broadcasters. Related question, where would Wigan finish in La Liga? I doubt they'd be relegated." I'd love to see Connor Sammon playing at the Camp Nou.
8 min: It's noticeable that Real are working as hard as possible to stop Barcelona having it all their own way at the back. Ronaldo has twice closed them down deep in their own half, and Benzema has been an irritant to Pique as well.
6 min: A high cross-field pass from left to right goes over Iniesta, who just turns and plucks it out of the sky before it goes out for a goal-kick. He is brilliant. He then tries to play Fabregas in. He's onside, but the pass is too heavy and Casillas collects. He glares at his defenders, they glare at the linesman.
5 min: Congratulations to Barcelona, by the way, for not conceding after 21 seconds this time. "Surely putting out the message not to delete a recorded programme is akin to the cartoon favourite "I'm just putting this pie on the window ledge to cool" when there is a hungry dog in the room," muses Phil Withall.
4 min: Sanchez turns and looks to release Alves down the right. But look at this, there's Ronaldo haring back behind the full-back to make a superb sliding challenge. Mourinho spoke about him working like an animal yesterday; here's more proof of it.
3 min: I'd wager that Casillas is the only Real player who's touched the ball so far. There's no doubt about it, they are parking the bus and looking to hit Barcelona on the counter.
2 min: The ball is pinged over the top of the Real defence for Fabregas to chase, but it trundles out for a goal-kick. Moments later, Barcelona try the same tactic again, this time looking for Sanchez. Casillas is quick off his line to boot clear into the stands. Real have barely had a kick yet. "The problem with your 'Eating at the Hawksmoor every night' analogy is that El Clasico is like eating at the Hawksmoor while Raymond Blanc wanders in, harasses your waiter and spits in your food occasionally," says Stephen Bush. "Barcelona's best performance against Madrid in recent years, for my money, was the 6-2 in Pep's first year."
1 min:
The second half restarts at Molineux. Richard Stearman gets it and pumps the ball up field.
Barcelona start us off, kicking from left to right. The ball is immediately played back to Puyol and Pique, who stroke it about without a care in the world. "Just watching the players line up in the tunnel here on Spanish TV and I have to say that close up Xabi Alonso is one handsome fella - the side-parting; the stubble; the strong jaw line," swoons Peter Ferry. Plus he is the brains of the operation in the Madrid team. If I could be any footballer in the world it would be Alonso."
The teams are out on the pitch. Real Madrid's players applaud all four corners of the Bernabeu. So do Barcelona's. What delightful guests, Real will definitely be having them back.
There's just been a very entertaining row between Michel Salgado and Guillem Balague on Sky - watch and learn, Alan Shearer. To precis, Salgado believes that Pepe is the wrong choice in midfield, especially with Ozil and Granero on the bench. "You're playing against history," blasts Balague.
Real Madrid are in the tunnel, waiting for Barcelona.
Classic mind games from Pep Guardiola.
The park the bus dilemma is settled. "In response to your desperate cry for assistance ("How do you say park the bus in Spanish"), I sought out a linguist friend, bored of revision and eager to learn about the intricacies of el clasico," says Stephen Harrison. "She assures me that "aparcar el autobus" would suffice [tran. Hannah Wood]."
It's finished Athletic Bilbao 2-0 Mallorca. Cue a Real-Barca montage on Sky. Everyone needs a montage.
The Sopranos is on Sky Atlantic at 9pm by the way, just in case Mourinho is putting the choke-hold on this game. I've recorded it, there'll be hell to pay if anyone in my house deletes it.
"When you win easily most weeks, you don't have to play at full pelt all game?" says Paul Chandler.
"Surely not the same Barça XI quite *all* the time?" says Charles Antaki. "They put out effectively a reserve side when playing the return leg of the Osasuna game (in the round before this one) - they still won 1-2, mind." Well yes, but they were 4-0 up already.
"So this year Barca will try to beat Real with Pinto in goal and win Champions League with three defenders & no strikers," says Roman Hosoff. "If they succeed, next year we might even see slightly bored Guardiola joining Busquets and Fabregas in midfield." And with Messi blindfolded.
"Maybe we should revise our thinking and agree that its possible to simply have too much of a thing," suggests David Flynn. "Since Jose has decided to merely kick barca off the field, the majority of recent classicos have been anything but good." Indeed - last spring's mini-series suffered because of the suffocating nature of four games in 16 days.
Although Chris Brock wouldn't mind that. "Huh," he says. "Give me a diet of sprouts over that fiddly foreign muck with garlic and eyeballs and such like any day. It's the third round of the FA Cup! In England. And a local Derby. And you're following some game in Spain. Where's your sense of patriotism? Regards (tongue firmly in cheek)." The magic of the cup reigns in Spain tonight.
"Usual Mourinho setting his stall out for a 0-0 draw at home," says Steve Waine, and seeing as I'm under no contractual obligation to make this stuff interesting, he may well be right. "Boring," he concludes.
Here's another stat courtesy of Infostrada. "Lionel Messi will play his 300th match for Barcelona in all competitions," writes Ernst Wark. "He has scored 213 goals including 13 in 16 El Clásicos in all competitions." The Stoke line is now banned, isn't it? You can't use it. If you do, you have to watch Wolves v Birmingham.
On the Real Madrid bench: Mesut Ozil, Kaka, Callejon, Esteban Granero.
In the Real Madrid team: Lassana Diarra, Pepe and Hamit Altintop.
Conclusion: This may not be pretty. How do you say park the bus in Spanish?
Pre-match emails:
"Why is it that Barcelona can field substantially the same XI time after time ('Barcelona are as expected'), while EPL teams are constantly changing squads from one match to the next?" says Paul Szabo. "Is it injury-related? The need (or not) to change strategy for different opponents?" Would you bother changing this team too much?
"I knew you were Steinberg without even looking because "playstation" is your frame of reference for toys that need to be put away," says Adam Nelson. "Such a young rapscallion." I don't know why I said that actually, I've never owned one. I'm using my imagination. Look at me, like a real writer!
The first email. "I wouldn't worry about getting too much of a good thing," says Robin Hazlehurst. "Wolves are playing Birmingham in the cup replay at the same time. Five minutes of that during the half time break here is like a three-week diet of sprouts and can justify you gorging on liquid chocolate football for the second half of this game." That tie has been on television twice now. I've switched over to the first Copa del Rey game, in which it is Athletic Bilbao 2-0 Mallorca.
A frightening statistic: Carlos Puyol has not lost any of his last 50 games for Barcelona. That's 42 wins and eight draws. He's bettered Arsenal's Invincibles all on his own.


Team news: Who remembers what Hamit Altintop looks like? He's lining up at right-back, while Ricardo Carvalho is back after injury, meaning Pepe moves into his old stomping ground in midfield. Barcelona are as expected, with Pinto in goal instead of Victor Valdes.
Real Madrid: Casillas; Altintop, Ramos, Carvalho, Coentrao; Lassana Diarra, Xabi, Pepe; Ronaldo, Higuaín, Benzema. Subs: Adan, Marcelo, Albiol, Kaka, Ozil, Granero, Callejon.
Barcelona: Pinto; Dani Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Abidal; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Alexis, Fábregas, Messi. Subs: Valdes, Mascherano, Thiago, Adriano, Sergi Roberto, Dos Santos, Cuenca.
Kick-off: 9pm.
Evening. The idea that it's possible to have too much of a good thing was surely agreed upon and created by parents in order to get their children ready for all of life's many and varied disappointments; can't have ice-cream every day of the week, put the Playstation away, because you've got homework to do and greens to eat. Of course, some of the best childhood memories stem from the random treats life throws at you, the rare occasion you stayed up late to watch a football match or when your teacher couldn't be bothered on a rainy afternoon and put a film on instead. Here are moments to cherish; special because they don't come along very often and if they did, well, it would just be another of those things you could shrug your shoulders at with tired insouciance.
The latest instalment in the Clasico series has drawn a similar reaction. Real Madrid? Barcelona? Them? Again? Two legs?! Didn't we only do this last week? Turning your nose up at this is a bit like being offered free entry to the Hawksmoor for a year and deciding to go to Wimpys instead, yet any yawns are, if not totally forgivable, understandable. Spanish football is getting dangerously close to Rangers and Celtic levels now, with Barcelona and Real Madrid totally dominant – for them, as Sid Lowe has pointed out, draws are the new defeats and for the rest, draws are the new victories. Last season, during that preposterous and ill-tempered let-down of a mini-series they met in the final – which Madrid won – and this quarter-final could effectively be seen as this year's edition. They might stand in each other's way, but no one else in Spain does. Possibly no one in Europe does, but that's an argument for another day.
This is already the fourth time Barcelona and Real Madrid have met this season (twice in the Super Cup and once in the league) and they are guaranteed to play at least two more games (the second leg of this tie and the return game in the league, both at the Camp Nou). Then there remains the possibility of them meeting in the Champions League, either in the final or over two legs. You wouldn't bet against it. Full yet?
Real have won just one of their last 12 games against Barcelona – last season's Copa del Rey final, when Cristiano Ronaldo settled it in extra-time with a thumping header. In the celebrations afterwards, Sergio Ramos dropped the trophy off the top of a double-decker bus, which then rolled over it; faced against Barcelona, their grip on the trophy looks even less secure now. Save for that match, in which Barcelona were still the better side, Jose Mourinho has not been able to get the better of Pep Guardiola. The only in the eye for Barcelona has been physical.
And yet, Real are currently five points clear at the top of La Liga. It is quite possible that Mourinho, having tried nearly every approach in his time at the Bernabeu, has realised he cannot beat this Barcelona face-to-face, so has instead opted to better them in a long-distance race, picking and choosing his battles. The evidence is clear: last season, Real played an open game against Barcelona and were beaten 5-0. They went defensive and dirty in the Champions League. They lost. In the Super Cup, they were physically superior. Leo Messi won it for Barcelona. In the league last month, Real attacked Barcelona from the off, were 1-0 up faster than you can say tiki-taka and were eventually beaten 3-1.
A fascinating consequence of this could be that Barcelona beat Real Madrid in four competitions, over the course of seven or eight games, and Real Madrid win the league, pouncing on little slips here and there from Guardiola's men. As good as Real have been this season, at no point have they even threatened to reach the heights Barcelona have scaled and Mourinho is not stupid. He knows that if Barcelona play to their potential, you could put two sides out there at once and they'd still win 99 times out of 100, because they really are too much of a good thing.

Djokovic, Murray to come out swinging

Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray answer the bell for round two at the Australian Open today with neither expected to struggle on day four, while Maria Sharapova kicks off the action against qualifier Jamie Hampton on Rod Laver Arena.
Djokovic, whose victory in Melbourne last year sparked a remarkable season in which he won three grand slam titles, beat Italian journeyman Paolo Lorenzi in just 92 minutes and will seek to make equally quick work of Colombia's Santiago Giraldo.
While the Serb has quickly found his rhythm at Melbourne Park, Briton Murray had a rude awakening in the first round by going a set down to American Ryan Harrison before rallying for an ultimately comfortable victory.
But the world number four, the losing finalist here for the last two years, should be sharper against Frenchman Edouard Roger-Vasselin as he seeks to put a smile on new coach Ivan Lendl's face at Hisense Arena.
The Scot will hope to avoid a physically taxing match against the well-rested Roger-Vasselin, who advanced to the second round when Xavier Malisse retired after the first set of their encounter on Tuesday.
American qualifier Hampton could be forgiven for being a bag of nerves ahead of her meeting with Sharapova after the Russian pounded Gisela Dulko 6-0 6-1 in her opening match on Tuesday.
Sharapova had not played a competitive match this year before coming to Melbourne Park after an ankle injury flared up but the world number four showed no signs of rust against the Argentine.
Ankle injuries have forced Serena Williams to join the ranks of the walking wounded for the first grand slam of the year but the American, who faces Czech Barbora Strycova, has no doubts she is more than capable of winning a sixth Australian Open.
Williams follows Sharapova on court at Rod Laver Arena, which should mean she will be able to avoid the dive-bombing crickets that drove her to distraction on Tuesday night against Tamira Paszek.Also in action are Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, Ana Ivanovic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Nadal impressive as Federer takes free pass

Spain's Rafael Nadal bulldozed past Tommy Haas at the Australian Open on Wednesday as Swiss great Roger Federer reached the third round without even picking up his racquet.

Women's champion Kim Clijsters raced through in just 47 minutes to stay on course for a clash with China's Li Na, while former French Open winner Francesca Schiavone was stunned by fellow Italian Romina Oprandi.

But top seed Caroline Wozniacki survived a second-set fightback by Georgia's Anna Tatishvili to win 6-1, 7-6 (7/4). Federer, seeking his first grand slam win in two years, received a boost when Germany's Andreas Beck withdrew from their match with a back problem, giving the Swiss free passage to the third round.
The rest will be welcome for Federer, 30, who was forced out of this month's Qatar Open with back spasms and will break Jimmy Connors's record of 233 grand slam wins if he reaches the final.
"I would have loved to play. Feel sorry for the fans, you know, who were excited to see me on Hisense today. I was ready to go," he said.
"I was just coming for my warm-up hit, so I was completely focusing on the match.... Now I'll just take it easy this afternoon and come out tomorrow and hit intensely tomorrow, and then I'll be ready for the next match."
Federer's opponent on Friday is either Ivo Karlovic or Carlos Berlocq, while Nadal will play Donald Young or Lukas Lacko after his 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 over the classy Haas.
Nadal, moving freely despite a heavily bandaged right knee, was broken in the first and third sets but he always looked in control against the injury-hit German, who has reached the semi-finals on three occasions.
"He's a fantastic player and he's had a lot of injuries over the last couple of years and it's great to see him back," said Nadal, who suffered a dramatic flare-up in his long-troubled knee on the eve of the tournament.
"It's much better and I'm happy with how the knee is improving and I played today without any problems," added the 10-time grand slam-winner.
Clijsters brushed past France's Stephanie Foretz Gacon 6-0, 6-1, while French Open winner Li dispatched Australian wildcard Olivia Rogowska 6-2, 6-2 to stay on track for a fourth-round meeting with the Belgian.
But Schiavone followed US Open champion Samantha Stosur out of the tournament when she was shocked by 80th-ranked compatriot Romina Oprandi, who won 6-4, 6-3.
"I think it was a really bad match for me," Schiavone said. "I couldn't play like I was trying to play."
Daniela Hantuchova and Jelena Jankovic also went through in the women's draw, while Juan Martin del Potro, Feliciano Lopez and Tomas Berdych were the other men's seeds to progress.
Meanwhile, men's tour chief Brad Drewett admitted there were "frustrations" among players but played down swirling talk of a strike after several spoke out over pay and conditions.
"There are frustrations out there. As I said, I plan to take them on board. I've heard them," he said.
The new Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) boss was speaking after an unprecedented groundswell of discontent prompted strike rumours and a brief rift between Nadal and Federer.
Players have long complained about the tough tennis calendar, often blaming it for injuries, and they are reportedly unhappy over Davis Cup scheduling and prize money at grand slams.

Maria Sharapova Vs Jamie Hampton in Australian Open 2012


The former World No. 1 Maria Sharapova will meet Jamie Hampton in the second round at Australian Open 2012 at 00:00 GMT on Wednesday 19th January, which will held on outdoor hard courts at Melbourne Park.
The three-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova has reached second Australian Open championship on Tuesday, after overpowered Gisela Dulko of Argentina in straight sets with a 6-0, 6-1 score line. Russian star has been playing first WTA Tournament in 2012 here in Australian, where she is looking one of the hot favorite to lift the championship. Sharapova has won the Australian Open in 2008, beating former World No. 1 Ana Ivanovic of Serbia in two sets in the final.
The United States qualifier Jamie Hampton will face tough battle in the second round and looking forward to show best performance against fourth seed. Hampton has overcome against Mandy Minella in two sets with a 6-1 and 6-1 score line in the opening round. American star has begun the new season at 2012 ASB Classic tournament earlier this month and felt in the first round by Monica Niculescu in two sets.
Maria Sharapova and Jamie Hampton have never played each other in career, where both the players are battling for the first time. The predications’ favor Maria Sharapova will win the second round match in straight sets and enter into the third round Australian Open 2012 tournament, being played here on outdoor hard courts at Melbourne Park.

Yu Darvish Signs With the Rangers

Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The Rangers hope Yu Darvish puts them over the top.
Bats
Keep up with the latest news on The Times's baseball blog.

Major League Baseball

Yankees

Mets

With only minutes to spare before an irrevocable deadline, the Rangers and Darvish agreed to a six-year contract on Wednesday, allowing Texas to add probably the most talented pitcher outside of Major League Baseball.
A superstar in his home country, Darvish, 24, was the most highly scouted and sought-after pitcher in Japan over the past several years, with an electrifying fastball and a fiery personality to match.
The Rangers, in need of an ace after Lee and Wilson left in free agency the last two years, had been planning to acquire Darvish for months and finally completed the last step Wednesday.
Texas won the right to sign Darvish with a $51.7 million posting bid in December and had 30 days to agree to a contract. If the sides had not agreed by 5 p.m. Wednesday, Darvish would have had to return to Japan to pitch.
Darvish’s agent, the California-based Arn Tellem, had been working around the clock in meetings in Texas with Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels to secure a deal.
At 6 feet 5 and 190 pounds, Darvish does not fit the physical mold of most of the previous Japanese pitchers who have come to Major League Baseball. His outward expressions of competitive zeal — fist pumps and other mound histrionics — also set him apart from many of his predecessors.
Not since the Red Sox spent a little over $100 million to acquire Daisuke Matsuzaka before the 2007 season has there been this much anticipation and expenditure for a Japanese pitcher.
The Matsuzaka experience has been a combination of success, disappointment, injury and frustration for both Matsuzaka and the Red Sox, but Texas feels that Darvish’s stuff and his temperament are better suited for Major League Baseball.
Darvish was 18-6 with a 1.44 earned run average last season. Over seven seasons, he was 93-28 with a 1.99 E.R.A. and has not had an E.R.A. over 1.88 since he was 19.
He in effect replaces Wilson, who left the Rangers after the World Series to join the Los Angeles Angels as a free agent. A year earlier, Lee signed with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Darvish joins a rotation that already includes Derek Holland; Matt Harrison; Neftali Feliz, who had been the Rangers’ closer; and Colby Lewis or Alexi Ogando.
With the two sides coming to agreement on the contract, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, Darvish’s team in Japan, will receive the $51.7 million posting fee. When Matsuzaka joined the Red Sox in 2007, his old team, the Seibu Lions, used the $51 million posting fee to acquire new players and refurbish its old stadium, once it had substantial taxes on the income.

Illustrating baseball history

By Jim Caple 

Off Base
The most beautiful baseball cards you'll ever see don't come in an aluminum foil or wax paper wrapper. They aren't stained by a stale plank of unchewable gum. And they are so drop-dead gorgeous you would never, ever, under any circumstance consider sticking them to your bicycle spokes.
Not that you could anyway. Because the most beautiful baseball cards you'll ever see are online at Gary Cieradkowski's website, infinitecardset.blogspot.com. But hold off clicking on that link until you finish this column because chances are once you go there, you won't be leaving for quite a while. (I'm only thinking of your employment.)

For now, just take a look at a couple of the cards you'll find there.
[+] EnlargeEddie Gaedel
Gary Cieradkowski
[+] EnlargeWarren Spahn
Gary Cieradkowski
Cieradkowski, 41, is a superb graphic artist and illustrator -- he designed the clock at Camden Yards, along with the ballpark's seat logos while he was in college -- and he's been creating the cards on his blog since his father died in the fall of 2009. His father had passed on his baseball passion to Gary, who fondly recalls the ongoing trivia contest between the two.
"He would call up and not even say 'hello' first, just start right in with the trivia question," Cieradkowski said. "We would try to drag up baseball players the other had never heard of. My father passed away suddenly two years ago from an aneurysm. We talked three or four times a week, maybe more, talking about baseball. Dad died at the end of September and when spring training came along a couple months later I suddenly realized I didn't have anyone to talk baseball with."
So he began the blog, regularly drawing brilliant new card after brilliant new card. "It's a tribute to my father. I just wanted to do something with the characters I had read about. And I started doing these baseball-card illustrations.
"I think of my dad every time I do one. I know this will sound really hokey, but it's my way of still talking to him and having him around. I'll think, 'Dad would like this guy,' or think that it would be a player he told me about, and how it would be nice to have him see the drawing."
[+] EnlargeVictor Starffin
Gary Cieradkowski
[+] EnlargeEiji Sawamura
Gary Cieradkowski
Cieradkowski collected baseball cards when he was growing up in the '70s and '80s in New Jersey, rooting for the Mets and hating the Yankees. And just like so many others, he stuck the cards in his bicycle spokes to produce a whirring sound. "That's where all the Cubs and Yankees cards went!"
"I would buy new cards and then trade for the old ones," Cieradkowski said. "Guys with the Brooklyn Dodgers. They were grandfather's team and those uniforms were just neater looking. Every once in a while I could trade for a Goudy card from the 1930s. I was always really drawn to those older ones. It wasn't someone just taking a photo, it was someone who took the time to draw the player."
[+] EnlargeJoe DiMaggio
Gary Cieradkowski
Cieradkowski's cards (and especially his posters) bear a wonderful similarity to the old WPA art style during the Great Depression. There also is a hint of Toulouse-Lautrec's strong lines and poster work. His artwork is able to capture the player far better than the photos you find in a typical baseball card. These players are more alive, more real than any faded photo. I almost expect them to leap off the card and demand $50 in exchange for an autograph.

There are famous players in Cieradkowski's set -- Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Satchel Paige -- but what sets it apart are the lesser known players with the compelling backstories. Cieradkowski loves to pour through baseball books and old newspapers, researching players from the past. He then writes up stories for the "back" of his cards on such players as Farmer Dean, a minor league hopeful on the West Coast who ate two steaks for breakfast each morning and wore overalls with a sign on the back declaring "I am Farmer Dean."
Farmer Dean would have thrived in the world of social media and reality shows but, alas, he never reached the majors. Nor did another pitching hopeful who has a card in the ever-expanding set:

[+] EnlargeCastro
Gary Cieradkowski
Castro isn't the only person in the set more famous for something other than baseball. George H.W. Bush is here, as is beat writer Jack Kerouac (who created his own very involved fantasy baseball game). It didn't matter how or where you played, whether the majors, minors, Negro leagues or Japan -- if you have an interesting story, Cieradkowski has a card.
You don't even have to be a real person. Sam Malone has a card. As does Roy Hobbs. And this guy:
Many of the players in the infinitecardset never had a baseball card. Thanks to Cieradkowski, they now have some of the best.
OK, now you can go to the link. Just don't tell your boss I sent you there.

CSI: Box Score


You know the drill. Each week I provide a fragment from an old box score and challenge you to determine what game it is from and why it's significant. I give this one a difficulty rating of 8.0. Answer below.
CSIKurt Snibbe/ESPN.com

Baseball Card of the Week


Who knew Joe Torre ever had so much hair! Topps ran a series of cards in its 1972 set that showed childhood photos of a few players. Jim Fregosi was shown holding an accordion. Jim Palmer was shown with an inflatable tube in a swimming pool. Tom Seaver is shown in a youth ball uniform. And Torre (1972 Topps No. 341) is shown standing in front of the family car.
If Topps ran this feature today, we would have a shot of a seventh-grade Derek Jeter rubbing his hickey while handing a girl a small bouquet and an autographed baseball. Tim Lincecum getting turned away from a "Sorry Kids, You Must Be This High To Ride This" sign at an amusement park. An appalled restaurant owner watching Prince Fielder enter the Kids Eat Free buffet line.
And of course, Jamie Moyer chained to a loom in a garment district sweatshop.

Yeah, Well, That's Just Like Your Opinion, Man


Then Again, Ken Phelps For Jay Buhner Worked Out All Right: I completely understand the Mariners' need/desire to beef up their terrible offense, but I'm still not a big fan of the Michael Pineda-Jesus Montero trade. For one thing, it violates the cardinal rule of trading -- never, never, never, never, NEVER deal with the Yankees. The prospects they offer are almost always overhyped. Next, the Yankees are the strongest team in baseball. Helping them just hurts everyone's chances in the long term. If New York needs a player, let the Steinbrenners add him the old-fashioned way by signing him to an obscene contract that puts them in the luxury tax category.
I Mean, "The English Patient" Over "The Big Lebowski"?: The Golden Globes handle awards better than the Academy Awards by giving out Best Picture awards for both dramas and comedies. The Oscars are biased against comedies -- they almost never win Best Picture ("Some Like It Hot" never even got nominated). Laughing is strictly verboten by The Academy, which much prefers that an audience cry over a person battling cancer or struggling with mental retardation (or preferably both). It's like starting pitchers and the MVP. They aren't excluded from the MVP but the award usually goes to a position player. Justin Verlander ended a 25-year MVP drought for starters in 2011 and Golden Globe winner "The Artist" has a shot at snapping the Best Picture drought for comedies, though I wouldn't classify it as a true comedy, either. Depending on how you classify "Chicago" (musical comedy) and "Shakespeare in Love" (as much historical romance as comedy) only two "comedies" have won Best Picture since "Annie Hall" in 1977 (when "Star Wars" deserved it).

Answer -- CSI: Box Score

The clues here are the names of Perry and Vandeberg in the Seattle box score, with the note that Vandeberg pitched to no batters in the seventh. Well, that's officially true because Mariners reliever Ed Vandeberg took over in mid-batter, threw ball four and the walk was charged to Gaylord Perry. But why did he relieve Perry midway through an at-bat? Because umpire Dave Phillips ejected Gaylord Perry for throwing a spitball, the first time Perry had ever been ejected for a spitter in his 22-year career.
Which leads to my ever-present question for writers who do not vote for players they suspect used steroids: If it was all right to vote for Perry, an admitted spit-baller who cheated throughout his career by breaking a rule that had been specified in the book since the 1920s, why is not all right to vote for a player who might (or might not) have used a substance that was not against the rules?

King to testify in cricket probe

 

Corporate governance and ethics specialist Mervyn King is likely to be the last witness to give evidence to the Nicholson inquiry into Cricket SA's financial affairs when the commission reconvenes next week.

The commission's head, Judge Chris Nicholson, said that the hearing will continue next week when King returns from overseas .
The commission adjourned on Tuesday with the last oral submission coming from former Cricket SA president Norman Arendse.
Arendse has called for the suspension of Cricket SA CEO Gerald Majola and for the former chief operating officer, Don McIntosh, to be charged.
He said Majola wielded too much power in the organisation and that the Cricket SA board had failed to call him to order.
Arendse said the board had failed dismally in respect of corporate governance.
He said that sponsors who had stopped supporting cricket following the revelation of the bonus scandal would return once something was done.
The inquiry, which began its hearings at the end of November, has heard testimony that placed Majola in an untenable position.
The commissioners led by Nicholson are the chief director of internal audits at the Treasury, Zoliswa Zwakala, and accountant-general Freeman Nomvalo.
The commission is expected to have completed its inquiries before the end of next month.
Former United Cricket Board (the forerunner of Cricket SA) managing director Ali Bacher said that an amount of R5-million paid to him after the 2003 cricket World Cup had been approved by the board and was intended to bolster his pension fund, which he described as "inadequate".
Majola had accused Bacher of setting a precedent for bonuses.
Bacher was backed by former UCB board member Tim Khumalo, who said Majola had been a member of the board that approved Bacher's bonus.
Former Cricket SA remunerations committee chairman Paul Harris confirmed to the inquiry that Majola's bonuses and travel allowances were "ridiculous and never approved by the remunerations committee".
He, and a number of subsequent witnesses, confirmed that similar bonuses had never been authorised by the committee.
The commission, which Arendse said he hoped would not turn out to be "a toothless bulldog", will present its findings to Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula.
Mbalula, together with the Cricket SA board, will then decide on the future of Majola.

Is Roger on the outer at Hisense?


IT SEEMED impossible. Roger Federer, Ice King of tennis, four times champion of the Australian Open, was to be cast into the outer.
Having played an unbroken chain of 52 games in Melbourne's central shrine to the game, the Rod Laver Arena, he was scheduled to appear yesterday in Hisense Arena, a futuristic satellite hovering at the edge of Melbourne Park. Indeed, it is less a tennis stadium than a velodrome.
Was this some dreadful insult constructed by the tennis gods? A cruel, albeit unintended, metaphor for a monarch on the slide, even one who has earned 70 singles titles and $67.4 million in winnings alone?
Worse, perhaps, the younger and much scruffier Rafael Nadal, who has spent recent years snapping at Federer's heels on the court and in the rankings, had this week taken to verbally snapping at him.
Peeved that Federer, president of the World Tour Player Council, was keeping his own cool counsel on grumblings in the dressing rooms about how the men's game should change, rather than making public statements in support of his colleagues, Nadal used a Spanish language news conference on Sunday to insert the needle.
''For him, it's good to say nothing,'' Nadal said. ''Everything positive - 'Oh, it's all well and good for me, I look like a gentleman' - and the rest can burn themselves.''
Nadal, clearly realising he was not being overly gentlemanly himself, has since tried to smooth it over, declaring he and Federer are on the best of terms. No one, however, could have missed the fact that the Spaniard, 25, had felt emboldened to bare his teeth at the former top dog, now 30.
And then, yesterday, as if to rub salt into the sore, Federer was to be consigned to a far pavilion, a converted velodrome, while Nadal was scheduled for the glamour match of the day against the German-born American Tommy Haas. And, of course, the Nadal-Haas rumble would be centre stage, in Rod Laver Arena.
It turned out to be an absorbing, edge-of-the-seat experience for the crowd of 15,000. Nadal appeared to have each set all but wrapped up when Haas would stage a thrilling fightback, forcing the Spaniard to shift gears and swat the American into submission, the fans shrieking their support for the underdog.
But then, merciful fate intervened for the distant Swiss. Federer's opponent, the German Andreas Beck, withdrew from the match, citing a back injury. Federer would not play at Hisense Stadium after all. He would advance like royalty, without having to play at all, to the next stage of the Open, which used to be his for the taking.
He opined that he had been looking forward to appearing at Hisense, that there was nothing unusual about playing on an ''outside'' court - why, it was commonplace at Wimbledon and the French Open - and declared he felt bad that fans who had come to see him play would go home disappointed.
He would simply go away and give himself an ''intense'' workout in preparation for his next round. Limbering up, you might think, with a view to treating young Nadal to a lesson in manners some time further into this intriguing competition. In the Rod Laver Arena. Naturally.

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