x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Cristiano Ronaldo steps out of Lionel Messi's shadow

The Real Madrid man usually comes off second best to his Barcelona rival when the two are on the same field. But Andy Mitten says not on this night at Camp Nou.

Cristiano Ronaldo, left, scored the winner to lift Real Madrid over their Primera Liga rivals, Barcelona.
Cristiano Ronaldo, left, scored the winner to lift Real Madrid over their Primera Liga rivals, Barcelona.

Calm.

That is what Cristiano Ronaldo urged for after scoring the winning goal in a situation which was anything but. Barcelona had just equalised and a 95,000 crowd roared for a vital winner against Real Madrid.

There were 18 minutes to play in the biggest game in world football when Ronaldo ran on to a through ball from Mesut Ozil and finished clinically past Victor Valdes.

The man Spain calls "Cristiano" didn't overdo the celebrations. He merely requested the same composure from his teammates that he had displayed on a brilliant night for Real in the home of their hated rivals.

It was not the image portrayed by a cartoon in the Catalan daily Sport before the game. The contest was shown simply as a battle between good and bad.

A beaming Xavi against the demon-eyed Pepe, a contented Andres Iniesta against the hapless fool Sergio Ramos. Pep Guardiola was shown being thrown in the air after another trophy win, Jose Mourinho shackled at the wrists as if he should be sectioned.

And there was an inspired Lionel Messi holding the Barca badge on his shirt in contrast to the self-obsessed vanity project that is Ronaldo.

Many in Catalonia would consider that fact rather than caricature - and, naturally, in Madrid the opposite. Few go in search of the truth in Spain. Battle lines were drawn long ago, opinions entrenched.

Messi is the best player everywhere in the world except among Real fans, while Ronaldo is rarely credited for his brilliance by Barcelona's support. Messi and Ronaldo seldom come face to face. Many rival footballers share the same national side: Xavi and Xabi Alonso, Sergio Ramos and Gerrard Pique. They get on. Others rivals share the same boot sponsors and meet that way. They get on.

Messi and Ronaldo only ever meet on the pitch or the podium, with Ronaldo usually second best on both. Usually, but not always. Ronaldo's extra-time header won the Copa del Rey for Madrid last season against Barca, while he won the Pichichi for top scorer in La Liga in 2011 which Messi had won a year earlier.

The battle for this year's Pichichi is the most intriguing yet. Both had scored 41 league goals before the game - the same figure Ronaldo managed last season, a figure which had never been reached in the history of Spanish football.

Ronaldo started with an intent absent in past Camp Nou clasicos. His fourth-minute header was tipped over by Victor Valdes, while Messi could not lift a 12th-minute free-kick over the Madrid wall. The Argentine dropped deeper, saw more of the ball, but did not join his team in protesting as Sergio Busquets was booked for fouling Ronaldo in the 15th minute.

Ronaldo walked away from the melee and he also tried to calm things down after Sami Khedira prodded his side ahead a minute later. The goal, Real's 108th of the league season, broke the all-time record for goals scored in a season in Spain.

Camp Nou a cauldron of noise and Catalan colour before kick-off, was silenced, save for the 600 travelling supporters perched on the third tier.

Real were superior in every department. Coach Guardiola had warned of their overall quality and his words were prophetic. Ronaldo consistently had the better of his marker Carles Puyol and shot across goal after 20 minutes after combining with Karim Benzema, while Xabi Alonso and Pepe attempted to cover Messi as he pulled them out position.

Alonso was not quick enough in the 26th minute as Messi slipped by him and slid through a ball for Xavi who shot wide. Real only needed to avoid defeat and their cause was helped as Barca fans whistled in frustration. Mourinho and his men thrive under such attrition and the rain added to the spectacle which was covered by 34 television cameras, 700 journalists and watched by 400 million worldwide.

Real had not lost a game at Camp Nou after taking the lead since 1989. And that is all they needed to do - avoid defeat to maintain their four point lead with three games to play.

They held firm in the second half. Alonso was booked for a foul on Messi after 47 minutes while Ronaldo put the ball in the Barca net after 52 minutes, only to be adjudged offside. Barça looked ordinary, too narrow to stretch Real, too profligate in front of goal to equalise. They needed to change and Alexis Sanchez replaced Xavi.

The Chilean's impact was almost immediate, a 69th-minute equaliser. Camp Nou roared, but then Ronaldo responded with his 42nd league goal. Forty two in 34 games, none as important as this one.

Both clubs will turn their focus to Europe where they must overcome deficits. Barca will attempt to rescue their season against Chelsea, Madrid go in search of a league and European Cup double. The time is now for Ronaldo to step over Messi's shadow.

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