Few things in football can provide the joy of winning away to your fiercest, most hated, bitter rival, and that’s the pride beaming out of the Spanish capital this evening, as Real Madrid came back from a goal down to beat Barcelona and end their rivals’ 39-game unbeaten run on Saturday … at the Nou Camp.
Zinedine Zidane’s first crack at El Clasico as a manager ended in overwhelming delight, though Barca’s La Liga lead remains six and seven points over second- and third-place Ateltico Madrid and Real, respectively.
With 10 minutes on the clock, Luis Suarez opened Saturday’s scoring chances with a truly shocking miss from the top of the six-yard box, the spot to where Neymar had played a perfectly squared ball across the box, but the Uruguayan striker whiffed with Keylor Navas’s far post gaping and the game’s first golden opportunity had gone.
On 14 minutes, a tribute to Johan Cruyff, the late, great Dutch legend. And this, prior to kickoff…
Navas was up to the task, though, once called into action in the 19th minute, when Ivan Rakitic fired a scorching, low-hit shot on goal from the top of the 18-yard box. Navas was brilliantly quick to scramble and dive to his right, palming the Croatian’s out of harm’s way with ease.
The game’s first controversy arose in the 25th minute, when Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos came together in a challenge on the edge of the 18-yard box. Messi cut onto his right foot, behind Ramos, at which point the Spanish defender stuck out his left leg in attempt to win the ball. He missed the all altogether, but the referee swallowed his whistle and waved “play on.” The contact appeared to occur just outside the penalty area anyway, though it looked a definite free kick.
The scoring was opened at long last in the 56th minute, when Gerard Pique managed to wriggle free of his marker, Pepe, at the near post and head Rakitic’s looping free kick into the ground, past the outstretched hand of Navas.
Barca’s lead was short-lived, though, as Karim Benzema equalized for the visitors just six minutes later. Luka Modric started the entire move all the way back in midfield, but Marcelo and Benzema will receive most of the plaudits — and rightly so — for their surging run into the penalty area and acrobatic overhead finish, respectively, to beat Claudio Bravo and Co.
What’s El Clasico without a shocking refereeing decision sure to have these two fanbases at one another’s throats for another week? Gareth Bale‘s potential game-winner was, for some reason unbeknownst to human kind, ruled out as with fewer than 10 minutes remaining.
Never fear, Madridistas, for Cristiano Ronaldo has come to the rescue. Bale (right-footed) cross. Ronaldo chest control. Ronaldo right-footed strike past Bravo. A scintillating counter-attack on 85 minutes, not long after Sergio Ramos was shown his second yellow card and sent off.
To the soccer deities out there, we have but one wish: let’s settle this thing with one (or two) more El Clasico meetings in the final or semifinals of this season’s UEFA Champions League. Please. PLEASE.