Cristiano Ronaldo scored an 85th minute winner as Real Madrid came from behind to beat Barcelona at Camp Nou and end the Catalans 39 game unbeaten run.
Zinedine Zidane’s side finished the game, which came to life with Gerard Pique’s opening goal in the 56th minute, looking like they were the best team in Spain, not the one 10 points behind with eight games remaining.
That gap has been reduced to seven points and while Madrid’s prospects of winning the Primera Liga remain remote, it was Zidane’s greatest moment as a coach so far.
Pique is public enemy No 1 among Real Madrid fans thanks to his off the pitch comments, and he celebrated as he gave his side the lead against an obstinate foe.
But Karim Benzema equalised with a super volley from a deflected Toni Kroos cross for his 21st league goal of the season.
The winner came when Dani Carvajal surged forward and passed to Gareth Bale, who crossed to Ronaldo who controlled the ball on his chest before firing home a low shot from a narrow angle to silence the biggest crowd in football so far this season.
Until the goals the game had been average, with more emphasis on events before the match.
Eight minutes before kick-off, a hush had descended on Camp Nou and an emotional homage to Johan Cruyff began on the two huge scoreboards. Former Barca legends spoke of the Dutchman, all finishing by thanking him. It utterly enraptured the 98,000 crowd, who didn’t stop applauding until a ‘Football Club Barcelona’ chant enveloped the vast arena.
Fans then held up placards to read ‘Gracies Johan’ before a minute’s silence.
Cruyff won’t have approved of the football which followed, but while they live up the hype more than any game in football, not every clasico is a classic.
Cruyff wore No 14 and fans applauded throughout the 14th minute. By then, Barca had enjoyed the best chance to take the lead after nine minutes, but Luis Suarez, the Catalans’ top scorer with 28 league goals, failed to connect sufficiently to even hit the target.
Wearing black, both coaches stood on the edge of their area, intense and increasingly. Luis Enrique was furious when the referee refused to award a penalty — or issue Sergio Ramos, who had already been booked, a second yellow card — after bringing down Lionel Messi after 24 minutes. As white hankies of protest proliferated in the stands, the referee brandished a fourth yellow with less than a third of the game played when Javier Mascherano felled Bale, the Welshman playing with purpose.
Madrid were not dominating, but they were competing and Keylor Navas only had one save to make in the first half — a low 21st minute shot from Ivan Rakitic. The tempestuous, fractured opening finished with Daniel Alves blasting a shot over after 41 minutes and Benzema, the least effective of Madrid’s front three, volleying the ball towards the mountain of Tibidabo rather than Claudio Bravo’s bar a minute later.
Madrid were stung by November’s 4-0 home defeat to a Barca side who had moved 10 points ahead of them with eight games to play, but a repeat became implausible as Barca continued to pass the ball where they couldn’t hurt Madrid and Zidane’s side defended manfully.
Not since November 2002 has a clasico finished goalless, but when Messi hit another free-kick over the bar at the start of the second period, Barca were no closer to scoring. Navas made a second save after 53 minutes, pushing Messi’s curling chip wide before Pique’s buried his 56th minute header from a Rakitic corner to open the scoring, only for Benzema to equalise audaciously.
The game opened up. A Suarez volley from a tight angle with 11 minutes to play invoked a roar, but Madrid were more dangerous. Bale, one of the best performers on the pitch, thought he had scored with a header 10 minutes from time which was disallowed for pushing, Ronaldo struck the bar with a shot and before getting the winner, even though Madrid were reduced to ten men by Ramos’s dismissal.
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