A bloody game we play, indeed

By Rob Hughes

LONDON: Goalkeepers are the high-wire artists of global football, and it is the Latin Americans who give the position its full eccentricity.Last Sunday, two of them were in the headlines - one, alas, because he had been shot dead in the streets of Honduras, the other because he had spilled blood in the noble tradition of his trade, keeping the ball out of his net. 

The murder of Milton (Chocolate) Flores probably has nothing to do with his form. He was in San Pedro Sula, on leave from his Honduran club Real Espana, when he was hit by a hail of bullets fired by unknown gunmen. It was the early hours of the morning. Flores had stopped to talk to a woman presumed by police to be a prostitute when 17 bullets tore into his car.  

The 29-year-old goalkeeper died, the woman apparently was unhurt. 

Reports suggest Flores was in the wrong place at the wrong time in an industrial city scarred by gang warfare. He had been due to play for the Honduran national side against Argentina in San Pedro Sula on Jan 31. 

Another goalkeeper who won’t be there is German Burgos. He, too, likes the night, either for singing or playing football. Last November, Burgos, 33, told Argentina he was retiring from the national team to concentrate on his club career and to make time for his music. He is a rock singer in his own band, The Garb, which is an acronym of his full name, German Adrian Ramon Burgos. 

“Soccer is the day, music is the night,” he said. “Often they are incompatible.” 

As Sunday night turned into Monday morning, he was at the centre of a tumultuous Madrid derby match. Nine minutes from the end, he pulled off a penalty save against Luis Figo, taking the impact of the ball smack on the nose. In the time added on for medical treatment to stem the flow of his blood, his team Atletico Madrid dramatically and deservedly equalised to end all-square at 2-2 against Real Madrid in Real’s San Bernabeu. 

Half the football world was kept awake at unsociable hours watching this encounter. In Southeast Asia it was screened live to insomniacs, kicking off at 3.30 am; but in Mar del Plata, Burgos’ home town, it was late afternoon. And in the mind of Burgos facing, in every sense, penalties from Figo is an opportunity, not a cause for dread. 

There were three penalties in this fluctuating, fulminating revival of the biggest local rivalry in the Spanish capital. For three years, Atletico, the poorer cousin, had not visited Bernabeu because they had dropped a division. The fall came as the club’s president, Jesus Gil y Gil, fell into the hands of the judiciary. 

Magistrates alleged that Gil was funding his passion for Atletico through money siphoned from the town hall of Marbella, where he was mayor. Not for the first time, Gil spent time in jail. Not for the first time, he came out to find the means to fund his club’s place in the elite. Also as is his custom, he stoked up the players with accusations that some were taking his money and not running hard enough for it. 

A lament a month, interspersed with heart-bypass surgery, then an apology on the eve of the big game at Bernabeu was all a prelude to Gil taking his seat in the presidential box of the “enemy.” From there, the irascible Gil could raise an eyebrow as once, twice, three times Raul Gonzales missed opportunities to put Real Madrid in front. 

Raul was the boy Gil discarded when he deemed youth to be a waste of time, space and money. He disowned the Atletico training program, in which Raul was the outstanding pupil. So, unheard of in Madrid, Raul exchanged red and white stripes for the all white. And he became, notwithstanding Sunday’s aberrations, the prince of Madrid goalscorers. 

Despite Raul’s profligacy, the key to the contest was Figo versus Burgos. In a game littered with fouls, with a man sent off from either side and a further six cautioned, Atletico led through a penalty struck by Javier Moreno until Figo, with two goals, the second another penalty, put the whites ahead. 

Atletico performed bravely and above themselves to stay in the game. But when Burgos, his dark shoulder length hair flowing beneath a red peaked cap, stood before Figo from the penalty spot once again, the odds heavily favoured the home team. 

Figo struck the ball fiercely, but right down the middle. Burgos dived and got a gloved hand to the ball, but such was its velocity that the ball reared up, breaking blood vessels in the goalkeeper’s nose. 

Only for a goalkeeper would play be held up for five minutes while medics stuffed cotton wool to stem the flow of blood. Several times, the tempestuous keeper tried to shrug them away. Time, he felt, was of the essence. 

He was correct. In the 96th minute of the night, Atletico’s Demetri Albertini took a free kick that Iker Casillas, the Real guardian, misjudged. Casillas frantically pushed the ball onto his post, it rebounded, came down onto the back of Casillas’ head and dropped over the line. 

Casillas slumped, Burgos punched the air, the ref blew the final whistle.  

Who, in such a fickle world, would be a goalkeeper? – IHT 

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