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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Suarez salvages a point for Barcelona inside a politically-charged Atletico Madrid stadium

Uruguay striker cancels out Saul Niguez's opener as many inside the Wanda Metropolitano waved Spain flags in response to Catalan's push for independence.

Luis Suarez scored the equaliser that ensured Barcelona earned a point at Atletico Madrid. Sergio Perez / Reuters
Luis Suarez scored the equaliser that ensured Barcelona earned a point at Atletico Madrid. Sergio Perez / Reuters

Luis Suarez saved Barcelona's unbeaten Primera Liga record this season by salvaging a 1-1 draw at Atletico Madrid on Saturday in a match laced with political tension amid Catalonia's drive for independence.

Saul Niguez's spectacular strike had given Atletico an early advantage. However, Barca's dominance for large spells paid off when Suarez finally got the better of the outstanding Jan Oblak to level nine minutes from time.

"Everyone knows Atletico defend very well and have a great goalkeeper, but we did enough to believe we deserved more in the second half," Suarez said.

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A share of the points allows Real Madrid to move up to second, five points behind Barca, as Cristiano Ronaldo struck an 85th-minute winner - his first league goal of the season - to grind out a hard-fought 2-1 win for the European champions at Getafe.

Atletico move up to third but remain six points behind the leaders.

"It was a great game between two teams with very different characteristics," said Atletico manager Diego Simeone.

A backdrop of Spanish flags and chants of "Viva Espana" (long live Spain) met Barca on their first visit to the Spanish capital since a Catalan independence referendum marred by violence and deemed illegal by the Spanish government on October 1.

Atletico Madrid supporters hold up Spanish flags during the Primera Liga game against Barcelona. Francisco Seco / AP Photo
Atletico Madrid supporters hold up Spanish flags during the Primera Liga game against Barcelona. Francisco Seco / AP Photo

However, both managers lauded the atmosphere.

"The stadium was marvellous," Simeone said.

"I loved the stadium, the fans, (jeers for the opposition) are normal, but it was a great night of football for everyone," said Barca manager Ernesto Valverde.

The 68,000 crowd at Atletico's new Wanda Metropolitano were nearly silenced inside 30 seconds by Lionel Messi.

The five-time world player of the year rescued Argentina's floundering World Cup qualifying campaign with a stunning hat-trick in the altitude of Quito, Ecuador on Tuesday to ensure his presence at next year's showpiece in Russia.

Lionel Messi , centre, was "extraordinary" according to Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone, despite not scoring . Francisco Seco / AP Photo
Lionel Messi , centre, was "extraordinary" according to Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone, despite not scoring . Francisco Seco / AP Photo

And Messi nearly had another brilliant solo effort to add to his 17 goals for club and country this season as he weaved past a series of Atletico challenges before firing into the side-netting.

"Messi was extraordinary. Every time the ball went through him there was danger," added Simeone.

Barca defender Gerard Pique, an outspoken supporter of Catalonia's right to self-determination, was loudly jeered every time he touched the ball.

However, Antoine Griezmann was also driving Pique to distraction as he nutmegged the Spain international to bear down on goal only to be denied by a stunning stop from Ter Stegen.

The German stopper was helpless on 21 minutes when Saul cut inside onto his supposedly weaker right foot before unleashing a drive into the bottom corner from 20 yards.

Saul Niguez celebrates scoring the opening goal for Atletico Madrid. Sergio Perez / Reuters
Saul Niguez celebrates scoring the opening goal for Atletico Madrid. Sergio Perez / Reuters

Barca went onto dominate possession, but had to wait until 10 minutes into the second half to force Oblak into a save when Suarez stung the Slovenian's palms from outside the box.

Seconds later Messi sent a curling free-kick off the outside of the post and then fired his best chance of the match wastefully wide 19 minutes from time.

However, after another outstanding Oblak save to deny Suarez, Barca's pressure was rewarded when Sergi Roberto picked out an unmarked Suarez at the back post and his downward header had too much power for Oblak.

And Suarez should have won the game two minutes from time when he failed to connect with Andre Gomes's teasing cross.