Champions League: Advantage Barca as ‘El Clasico’ descends into farce
Real Madrid 0-2 Barcelona
It’s advantage Barcelona after the Champions League semi-final first leg, but the latest ‘El Clasico’ will be remembered as a farcical affair tarnished by cheating and bad sportsmanship.
Lionel Messi scored both goals in a game that saw Real Madrid defender Pepe dismissed, his manager José Mourinho sent to the stands and Barcelona substitute goalkeeper Jose Pinto given a red card for an off the field incident in a night of disgrace at the Bernabeu.
From the first whistle, the game never looked like living up to expectations. Real Madrid deployed the ultra defensive formation that has proved successful in their last two encounters with their arch rivals, getting as many men behind the ball as possible and inviting Barca to break them down.
Although they dominated possession, the visitors failed to create any real chances in the first half, with only David Villa going close with a vicious left-footed effort that beat Iker Casillas but flew narrowly wide of his right hand post.
Real offered little threat, but were extremely disciplined in shutting down Barcelona in midfield and attack and almost fashioned a goal of their own when Cristiano Ronaldo shot speculatively from the edge of the box and forced a save from Victor Valdes, who also saved a follow up effort from Mesut Ozil.
The game soon descended into the sort of farce that we have seen all too often from these sides in recent meetings. It has to be said that Barcelona were the main culprits, with first Pedro and then Sergio Busquets feigning injuries which prompted their teammates to chase the referee and demand that he start issuing yellow cards.
The sides remained goalless at the break, but the animosity between them wasn’t restricted to the pitch as a row broke out between the respective benches as the teams went down the tunnel at half time, a melee which resulted in the dismissal of Barcelona substitute ‘keeper Jose Pinto.
If the first half was farcical, the second half began in an even worse fashion when Madrid centre back cum defensive midfielder Pepe was sent off for what looked like an innocuous foul on Dani Alves. Although Pepe’s studs were up, there was precious little contact, although you could have sworn Pepe plunged a knife into Alves’ leg such was the agonised reaction of the Brazilian defender.
Typically, Barcelona players surrounded referee Wolfgang Stark demanding retribution and they got their reward when Pepe was given his marching orders. A furious José Mourinho was then sent to the stands for his reaction to the red card, after sarcastically mocking the decision of the German official.
Finally, after Pepe’s dismissal, something resembling a football match broke out. Down to ten men, Real were unable to continue with the game plan implemented so successfully in the first half, and Barcelona began to find gaps in the home side’s defence.
With 15 minutes remaining, Pep Guardiola’s side finally broke the deadlock. Substitute Ibrahim Affelay beat Marcelo a little too easily on the right wing and squared the ball to Messi, who poked the ball through the legs of Casillas to the back of the net.
Thankfully, on a night where we saw all that is bad about modern football, Lionel Messi delivered a moment of real genius to put the game and more than likely the tie as a whole, beyond all doubt. With four minutes remaining, the gifted Argentine embarked on a mazy dribble and beat four players before slotting the all past Casillas with his weaker right foot.
Astonishingly, it was Messi’s 52nd goal of the season, but unfortunately that statistic is likely to be ignored due to the shameful nature of what went on before.
When the furore dies down, however, Barcelona will care little as they remain well on course for their second Champions League title in three years.