The game, played with the conspicuous absence of FIFA's 2014 Ballon d'Or winner, Cristiano Ronaldo, was witnessed by a packed house and lived up to expectations as there was exciting box to box action. Real had the early advantage and Barca closed out the strongest in the first half.
The lone score of the half came at the 11th minute when a textbook breakaway counter saw Angel di Maria rush into the box from the left wing marked by Jordi Alba. The Madrid striker took his time and lined up a shot between Alba's legs, using the defender as a screen which left Barcelona's substitute keeper, Jose Pinto, reacting late and only getting a hand on what could have been a save. The ball ricocheted off the goalkeeper's hand and in just by the far post.
But in a half full of the unsportsmanlike activity we have come to expect out of a Clasico, referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz was just superb in his work. He began as we have often wanted refs to begin in games that could get testy, by giving a yellow card early. The first came at the 2:40 mark. Isco committed an obvious professional foul, stopping Neymar at the wing as he was about to begin a counter. Yellow earned and given.
Six minutes later (8:36) Andres Iniesta tried to fool the ref with a dive at midfield while being marked by the mercurial Pepe. But Lahoz was nearby and simply blew the play dead in order to give Iniesta a talking to.
At the 16th minute Neymar attempted to fake a take down in the box by Pepe and Fabio Coentrao who had been tackling him close and hard. The ref would have nothing of the act, and after he waved play to continue and the ball moved down field, both Madrid defenders manhandled Neymar in protest over his act. The ref blew his whistle then, giving out three yellows--one a piece for each member of the melee. Perfect!
The game, from about the 24th minute on, tilted somewhat toward Barca, but only in relation to the control Real exerted early on. Frankly only Madrid had real goal scoring chances in the half and Karim Benzema missed two while Isco, on a brilliant counter with Gareth Bale, was the recipient of what should have been a goal-cross but was instead a shot blocked by Alba.
As the first half came to a close two facts seemed to jump out at the TV announcers--first, up until its 0-1 loss to Granada, Barca has not gone two back to back games without scoring for six seasons. Their question, would today constitute a longer record stretching the drought to three games? Second, Real has not conceded once in Copa del Rey this season, would today be the record breaker, either way?
A single substitute, Adriano for Alba began the second half.
This game is not as good, as exciting and as goal-filled as the last Clasico but it is getting more exciting with every passing moment, and Lahoz is mostly to be credited. Fair play reigned today and the teams, playing at their respective levels of late, decided the game on merits.
At the 52nd minute Javier Mascherano had his comeuppance. With Pepe leading a breakaway the Argentine defender used his hip to clobber the Portuguese defender off the ball and Pepe crashed to the pitch. The well-earned yellow was quick and went unchallenged. Lahoz had previously warned Mascherano about his rough play and the very next occurrence was penalized.
Barca coach, Tata Martino, tried to bring in offensive substitutions but they seemed not to jell into a cohesive unit with those starters still on the field. Then, at the 68th minute, Pepe lost Marc Bartra on a simple corner and the unmarked defender headed in powerfully from close in for a Barca score. We were all tied up.
At the 78th minute, Lahoz had another moment. Realizing he had made the wrong call on an off sides against Barcelona he stopped play, awarded a dropped ball, instructed Real to kick back to Barca, and the game continued.
Then came the double clincher.
Part one: Bale, receiving the ball to begin a counter on his half of the field, decided to kick the ball well ahead of himself, to begin the counter. Only Bartra, his marker, had the inside track to the ball and decided to shoulder Bale off the field to boot. The Scotsman would not be denied though. He was easily yards behind his marker who now had a bead on the ball, only Bale's world class speed prevailed.
The Real striker blew past Bartra, beating him to the ball, rushing straight toward goal, and kicking the ball between Pinto's legs for the score. Real 2, Barca 1. By play's end Barta was still arriving at the goal as Bale ran past in celebration!
Part two: At the 90th minute, Neymar was the recipient of a goal-pass in the box from Xavi. But as he turned to take what all thought would be the tying goal, Real keeper, Iker Casillas, rarely needed all game long, charged forward, forcing the Brazilian striker to take a wide shot which hit the post and ricocheted back to Casillas on the ground. The ball was subsequently cleared to end all danger. Goal, game, and cup saved by the goalkeeper.
What a fitting ending to a very good game!