Wednesday 27th April 2011 - Champions League Semi Final 1st Leg
A little piece of magic from Lionel Messi has given Barcelona one huge foot in next months Champions League final at Wembley. A brace from the Argentinian, following a straight red card for Real Madrid’s Pepe, was the difference between Madrid and Barcelona in their Champions League Semi Final 1st Leg at the Bernabeu.
In what could only be described as an ugly match which produced more petty squabbles than clear cut chances, it was a piece of sheer brilliance that rubber stamped Barcelona’s dominance of their domestic rivals.
Before the game at the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid, it was the usual ‘Jose Mourinho show’, with a war of words between the two managers coming to the boil the day before the game.
Mourinho, a master of the mind games, had his opposite number, Pep Guardiola, uncharacteristically spitting feathers in his pre-match interview with the press. Following Barcelona’s somewhat comfortable victory tonight in Madrid, it was Mourinho who looked lost for words come the final whistle.
With a second leg, and a fourth meeting in 16 days, to come next week at the Nou Camp, this match between the two giants of Spanish football was never going to be an expansive show of class and quality.
Unlike Barcelona’s 5-0 thumping of Real earlier in the season, this was always going to be more a-kin to the most recent El Clasico, in the Copa Del Rey final just seven nights ago. On that occasion Real were the victors 1-0, and it was more of the same from the outset this evening.
The first half was a cagey, tense and sometimes lifeless affair, which was only broken up with outbreaks of en-mass arguments between players on both sides, and the German referee, Wolfgang Stark.
Barcelona, who passed Arsenal to death earlier in the campaign, toyed with their most recent conquerors, securing the bulk of the first half possession, keeping the ball at arms-length for most of the opening exchanges.
Occasionally Madrid were allowed brief forays with the ball, but were unable to create any clear cut chances, with the only real chance in the early stages falling to Barcelona’s Xavi.
Following a delightful through ball from the mercurial Messi, Xavi found himself with time and space to get a shot away just inside the Real box, forcing a smart save, low to his left, from Real goalkeeper Ike Casillas.
This, though, was to be the only action of note in what was a dull first half of football, right up until added on time.
A speculative effort from Ronaldo in injury time was spilled by Victor Valdes straight to the feet of German World Cup star, Mezut Ozil, who, from 10 yards out, could only find the legs of Valdes with his follow up.
With the half time whistle falling on a tetchy first half of football, the petty tone of the match descended on the players’ tunnel, with yet another melee breaking out between players, staff and security. Barcelona’s substitute goalkeeper Pinto was sent off as a result.
The second half began where the first had left off, quiet and lifeless with no chances of note. Then, with an hour on the clock, the game was sparked into life with a dubious, and technically second, straight red card. This time pointed in the direction of Madrid’s Brazilian-born centre half, Pepe.
Pepe, who was also sent off in the Copa Del Rey final last week, was given his marching orders again, this time for a high foot which caught Barcelona’s Daniel Alves on the knee after they’d both gone for a loose ball.
The incident was followed by a swarm of red and blue shirts heading in the direction of referee Stark, and whether that influenced the referee or not, the dismissal seemed harsh.
A third sending off was to follow, as in the aftermath Mourinho said a little too much to the fourth official and found himself sat in the stands moments later.
Barcelona, with their extra man, began to turn the screw and almost grabbed a vital away goal minutes after the sending off.
Xavi, picking up the ball from midfield, drove forward finding striker David Villa in space on the left hand side. A simple slide-rule ball presented a golden shooting chance for Villa whose snap shot was saved well by Casillas, only for the ball to be punched straight against the head of Villa’s strike partner Pedro, leaving the Spanish number one stranded as the ball floated past the post.
It was a brief stay of execution however, as with 15 minutes left on the watch, Barcelona made their numerical advantage count, grabbing a priceless away goal.
Xavi, who was involved in everything as he always is, under pressure from Lassana Diarra was able to find Affelay on the right wing, with the Dutchman’s jinking run allowing enough space to hit a low hard cross which was met beautifully by Messi at the near post, leaving Casillas with no chance.
It was more than what Barcelona deserved for their persistence and sheer dominance of the ball, and the tie was all but secured thanks to a piece of magic by Messi.
With a couple of minutes of normal time left to play, the petite Argentinian picked the ball up about 40 yards from goal with only one thing on his mind.
After gliding past not one, not two, but four Real Madrid challenges, the little maestro calmly slid the ball into the net, effectively giving Barcelona at least one foot in the final ahead of the second leg next week.
Barcelona were well worth their two goal advantage that they can now take to the Nou Camp next week, as it looks increasingly likely that we will have a repeat of the 2009 Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester United.
Both sides take 2-0 leads into their home legs, with what would have to be considered a monumental collapse being the only thing preventing a repeat of 2009 in Rome.
Undoubtedly Mourinho will have something to say about that dubious red card which preceded the Messi master-class, but, on this occasion, Mourinho got his tactics wrong and it looks like he will have to wait another year before attempting to become the first manager to win three Champions League titles with three different clubs.