As usual, El Clásico between Barcelona and Real Madrid was a spectacle of arguably the best football in the world. The latest fixture was the first leg semi-final match of the Copa del Rey tournament held at Madrid’s home stadium, Estadio Santiagio Bernabéu.
For the past several years, Barcelona has owned Real Madrid both away and at home. They have been the thorn in the side of a team that has the quality to beat anybody in the world, and if it weren’t for their dominance, Madrid may have won many more Spanish La Liga, Champions League, and Copa del Rey titles than they have in the last decade. While Madrid usually plays well and have a chance to win every matchup, Barcelona always seems to get the best of them, often due to one man; Lionel Messi. Messi, who won his fourth consecutive Ballon d’Or (Player of the Year) award this January, is the second all time leader in goals in El Clásico with 17, and has done most of his damage in the past five years.
Tuesday was no different as the little Argentinean genius assisted on Barcelona’s only goal that occurred just after halftime. The goal came slightly against the run of play as Madrid had threatened throughout the first half, but came up short. Barcelona did not look as precise as usual with their passing in the first half, and paid for it with an onslaught of Real Madrid counter attacks. Barcelona’s best chance of the half came from a Xavi free kick that dinged the crossbar, but other than a few half-chances, Madrid was the better squad in the first 45 minutes.
The second half showed why Barcelona has been so dominant in world football over the past several years. Quick, accurate passing; high, swarming defensive pressure; and the brilliance of Lionel Messi made an immediate impact in the beginning of the second half. A misplayed pass from the Madrid defense was intercepted by Messi, who played Cesc Fábregas in on goal and gave Barcelona a much needed away goal and the 1-0 lead. After that, the majority of the half was filled with fouls, quick passing, and a few great chances.
Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo missed a point blank header off of a Michael Essien cross and Barcelona’s Pedro blew what looked an easy breakaway as he chipped a shot way wide of the post. With the run of play in Barcelona’s favor, it seemed at that point as though Madrid’s fate was sealed. However, it was one of Madrid’s youngest players that had a different idea. 19-year-old central defender Raphael Varane, who has shown to be a bright young star for Madrid, showed power and skill as he got on the end of a beautiful cross in the 83rd minute and nodded home the tying goal. Varane had cleared the ball off of his own goal line to save a goal in the first half, and showed that his prowess is not only defensive as he ran over Cesc Fábregas to send his violent header into the back of the net.
The match ended in a 1-1 draw as the sides head to Camp Nou for the second leg of the semi-finals to be played Wednesday February 27th. With one away goal in hand, it would seem as if Barcelona has the upper hand going into the second leg, but in this rivalry, you never know what can happen.