x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Shooting stars for Real and Barcelona share the spoils

The showdown between Real Madrid and Barcelona again came down to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, and they were each up to the task as both scored a brace for a 2-2 draw.

Once again a clasico came down to Cristiano Ronaldo, right, for Real Madrid, and Lionel Messi for Barcelona, and on this night the two were equal. Both scored a brace for a 2-2 draw.
Once again a clasico came down to Cristiano Ronaldo, right, for Real Madrid, and Lionel Messi for Barcelona, and on this night the two were equal. Both scored a brace for a 2-2 draw.

Barcelona // Lionel Messi 2 Cristiano Ronaldo 2. The best two players in the world - or "from another planet" according to the Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho - stars of teams who most consider to be the world's finest at present, came head-to-head for the 14th clasico in two years last night.

Any fatigue attached to a fixture which takes place too frequently was blown away as the perfect pair added a brace each in a 2-2 draw to add their incredible goalscoring totals. Messi has now scored 53 goals for his club in 2012, Ronaldo 47.

Barcelona's 100 per cent winning start to the season may have ended after six matches, but they kept their eight point lead over their greatest rivals after a game played at incredible intensity on the pitch and with political charge off it.

Not for the first time, a giant 90,000 piece mosaic filled the stadium before kick-off to create a giant Catalan flag.

It fitted in with the mood for independence in Catalonia, where 1.5 million of the seven million population marched through Barcelona on September 11.

Although Pep Guardiola, the former coach, has been explicit in his support for independence, FC Barcelona - the Catalan standard bearers in the eyes of many of their supporters - chose not to be represented at the massive rally.

Their fans made their feelings clear at the game though, with independence flags aplenty.

At 17 minutes and 14 seconds - Barcelona fell to a Franco-Spanish army in the 1714 Spanish War of Succession - fans held those flags up and shouted for independence, knowing that a worldwide television audience in excess of 400 million would be watching.

Those fans were briefly silenced in the 22nd minute when Sami Khedira's neat pass to Karim Benzema on the edge of the area was pushed towards Cristiano Ronaldo.

Madrid's No 7 hit a first time left footed shot low inside Victor Valdes's post to become the first player to score in six consecutive clasicos. Ronaldo smiled and pointed a finger to his eye, as if to say: "Did you see that?"

With injuries to their central defensive mainstays Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique, the Barca coach Tito Vilanova surprisingly started Adriano, usually a left-back, alongside Javier Mascherano in central defence.

It did not work initially and Madrid's provider almost turned goalscorer a minute later, Benzema's shot denied by a post. Barca were abject and their defensive nightmare got worse in the 27th minute when the right-back Daniel Alves limped off while clutching his hamstring. A record seventh successive league win at the start of the season which would have sent Barca 11 points clear of Madrid looked remote, but their luck turned with a 30th minute Lionel Messi equaliser.

It came when an inch perfect Andres Iniesta pass was controlled by Pedro, the winger then crossed poorly towards the Madrid goal. The ball hit Sami Khedira and as it looped upwards Messi reacted first to volley the ball into the net with his left foot.

Barcelona's defence may have looked shaky, but their attack was its consummate self in an increasingly feisty encounter which saw five yellow cards.

There were appeals for a penalty when the sublime Iniesta was brought down in the 57th minute, but it Messi - who else? - who curled a magnificent 25-yard kick past Spain's best goalkeeper Iker Casillas in the 60th minute. The goal saw the Argentine move within one goal of Alfredo di Stefano 18 goal clasico record.

Barca's lead lasted five minutes, because while they boast the best player in the world, Madrid have the only player good enough to challenge his individual excellence.

That player, Ronaldo, equalised in the 66th minute as Barcelona's defence were opened by a Mesut Ozil pass. The man dismissed as "that Portuguese" by Catalans ran on to it and finished brilliantly past Victor Valdes.

The huge 95,000 crowd, the biggest in world football so far this season, was spellbound as both teams tried to break the impasse. Barca came closest when a Martin Montoya shot hit the cross bar three minutes from time and Pedro shot wide in injury time, but neither side could add to their total.

"It was a great game of football," smiled Barca's Xavi afterwards. He was not wrong.

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