With 10 minutes to play in the latest action packed, passionate and at times ill-tempered clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid, Barca’s Luis Suarez lay on the floor injured. In normal circumstances, the opponents might kick the ball out so that the player could receive treatment. Not Real Madrid, not on Sunday night. Zinedine Zidane’s side continued to push for a winner against 10-men Barcelona, a winner that would stop the champions becoming the first team in Spain to remain unbeaten in the league all season.
The 97,639 home fans – just 100 away fans were present – screamed in anger. Only minutes earlier, they had been reduced to a nervous near silence. Gareth Bale had equalised with a 72nd minute wonder goal in a game full of them. With Barca a man down, Madrid were starting to press their advantage.
The European champions had their own reasons to drop any fair play ideals, too. Bale was lucky to be on the pitch after a challenge on Samuel Umtiti which left the Welshman’s studs in the Frenchman’s calf, which he then raked down his leg. The referee missed that tackle at the end of the first half, but the recriminations were immediate as Barca’s Sergi Roberto, a man who comes alive in clasicos, was dismissed for aiming a punch at Marcelo, while Luis Suarez and Sergio Ramos went head to head. Both were booked.
The score was 1-1 at half time after two goals in the opening 14 minutes of an encounter labelled "decaffeinated" by some in Spain since the result wouldn’t change much. It was anything but, more a full on full-bodied roast which referee Alejandro Jose Hernandez Hernandez struggled to control.
Barca took the lead, Suarez finishing a magnificent seven pass, 12-second move initiated by goalkeeper Marc Andre ter Stegen. Suarez was twice involved, first in his own half to spread the ball wide to Roberto from the centre circle, then to volley a perfect cross from Roberto inside the box.
Madrid’s equaliser on 15 minutes also featured a sublime cross, this time from Toni Kroos, which Karim Benzema headed towards goal and Cristiano Ronaldo tapped in. Ronaldo equalled Alfredo di Stefano’s record of 18 goals as the all-time leading Madrid scorer in the clasico.
Messi put Barca back in front in the 52nd minute, although Suarez had fouled Rafael Varane in the build up. But it was another magnificent goal, one again involving Suarez, who set Messi up, before the Argentine moved back on himself and shot the ball through a tight angle.
Madrid were furious, more so when Jordi Alba, who had gone toe to toe with Luca Modric in the first half, fouled Marcelo in the area after 76 minutes. The referee, who was widely criticised by both sides – not that the players made his job easier – waved play on. Before the night was out he produce three yellow cards and one straight red for Barcelona, plus five yellows for Madrid.
It was Andres Iniesta’s 38th and final clasico and he left the field to a standing ovation after 58 minutes. He was later embraced by Zidane, who has now been in charge for four Camp Nou clasicos without defeat.
The game finished 2-2 and it was Barca who celebrated, if not with the Liga trophy. Gerard Pique, not a man shy in coming forward to provoke Madrid, took to the microphone and said: ‘Hello Camp Nou. As we’re champions and they haven’t given us a guard of honour, I’ll ask the staff to do it for us.” The staff obliged, just as the fans had done by singing "Campioni" throughout the game where both managers played their strongest sides.
Ronaldo, who was booed whenever he touched the ball, left the pitch injured at half time. His last six clasico goals have all come at Camp Nou.
“What a clasico,” said the Barca manager Ernesto Valverde afterwards, “very intense!” Indeed. He is now only three games from becoming the first manager in Spain to lead a team unbeaten in all 38 league games. Villarreal are next to try and stop that, at Camp Nou, on Wednesday.
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