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Barcelonaís Lionel Messi and Real Madridís Cristiano Ronaldo, left, know each other well having played on opposing sides so many times. Paul Hanna / Reuters
Barcelonaís Lionel Messi and Real Madridís Cristiano Ronaldo, left, know each other well having played on opposing sides so many times. Paul Hanna / Reuters

Novelty value of Lionel Messi v Cristiano Ronaldo is starting to wear off

The reaction to Friday's Uefa Champions League semi-final draw shows that many football fans around the world have had their fill of Barcelona and Real Madrid.

The press corps waited impatiently. As did those watching on television. An army of Twitter warriors had their messages ready, thumbs hovering over the send button. On stage, Uefa's pomp and circumstance, as usual, did little apart from irritate all concerned.

One question dominated: would Barcelona and Real Madrid be kept apart in the Uefa Champions League semi-finals?

"One prediction I can make for sure about the draw today: someone will say it's a fix," Sid Lowe, the Spanish football expert, tweeted just before the draw.

He was not far wrong. The notoriously partisan Catalan and Madrid media would no doubt have for once been united in Pavlovian indignity had the two been paired together in the last four, as they were two seasons ago (but not last season). And when the content of those red plastic balls were finally revealed, the rest screamed "fix" as they were kept apart.

You can see, if not necessarily agree with, the logic.

Except there was no fix, no plastic balls heated in microwaves, and no logic for keeping the world's two biggest clubs apart. For one simple reason; while a clasico final remains a distinct possibility, it is far from the certainty, or even probability, that many observers assume.

Barcelona and Real Madrid on current form have as much chance of beating each other as they do of overcoming their German opponents. Privately, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, will be confident of progress.

The reaction to the draw made one thing clear: we are all suffering from clasico fatigue. Another semi-final would have meant eight games between the two this season.

The first leg of their tie at this stage in April 2011 produced some of the most cynical football Europe had witnessed in years; overly aggressive, and cautious, tactics by Jose Mourinho, and excessive play acting by Pep Guardiola's Barcelona.

It was left to Lionel Messi to illuminate a dismal night at the Bernabeu with a sensational solo goal in a 2-0 win. (The return leg finished 1-1).

Since then, it must be pointed out, el clasicos have intermittently provided some fine footballing spectacles, and a final between the two would be historic. But the absolute domestic dominance of the pair, and blanket TV coverage, mean el clasico has lost its novelty value.

Hardly a month passes without a meeting in one competition or another, and the time between those is spent looking ahead to the next instalment. Familiarity has bred contempt; among the managers, players and fans.

Not everyone will agree.

In the Middle East, el clasico has long been a highlight of the football calendar, engendering blind devotion from people who have been no nearer to Camp Nou or the Bernabeu than Satwa.

Not even they, however, can deny the combination of hype and toxic atmosphere that surround many of those clashes, or indeed the monotony of regular four- or five-goal thrashings of lesser opponents.

Even the ceaseless brilliance, and astonishing statistics, of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have, harshly, taken on a routine nature.

Barca and Madrid are now the school bullies who beat you up and take your lunch money. And then demand to be loved.

Not that Dortmund or, certainly, Bayern are footballing paupers by any stretch.

The economic success of the German Bundesliga is the topic du jour in football circles these days, and the business model of Bayern in particular is the envy of clubs around the world.

And yet the obsession with the Spanish duo, and the English Premier League, has meant the German clubs have, at best retained a relative level of mystery that Barca, Real and Manchester United do not have. It also means German clubs have been denied as much acclaim their football so obviously deserves.

The likes of Tony Kroos, Thomas Muller and Bastian Schweinsteiger, from Bayern, and Marco Reus and Mario Gotze of Dortmund, would walk into any team in Europe.

And while manager Jurgen Klopp has been doing a fantastic job since taking over at Dortmund in 2008, last week's dramatic win over Malaga has raised his profile to a whole new level.

Above all, there seems to be an intangible joy attaching itself to the underdogs of Dortmund. And never was this more evident than last Tuesday night.

As Ronaldo performed his now customary "calma, calma" non-celebration after scoring against Galatasaray in Istanbul, breathtaking scenes of celebrations were taking place in front of Dortmund's fans at the Westfalenstadion following the win over Malaga.

Supporters of the world's two biggest clubs will disagree, but many will be hoping for a repeat at Wembley Stadium on May 25.

akhaled@thenational.ae

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