MADRID - Barcelona took a giant stride
towards a third straight La Liga title when they drew 1-1 at
10-man Real Madrid on Saturday to preserve their eight-point
lead over their arch rivals at the top with six games left.
In a tense encounter at a packed Bernabeu, the first of four
clashes between the teams in three competitions in 18 days,
Lionel Messi put Barca ahead from the spot in the 53rd minute
after Raul Albiol was sent off for a foul on David Villa.
The champions were cruising towards a sixth consecutive
victory in the "Clasico" under coach Pep Guardiola when Dani
Alves felled Marcelo and the referee awarded another penalty,
converted by Cristiano Ronaldo in the 82nd minute.
With Wednesday's King's Cup final and the two-legged
Champions League semi-final still to come, Real may take some
comfort from the fact they managed to come from behind to snatch
a point despite a numerical disadvantage.
Barca will perhaps feel they squandered a chance to bury
their rivals in the league title race in front of a television
audience of millions as they bid for a repeat of their 2009
treble of domestic league and cup plus Champions League.
"Coming to the Bernabeu and drawing is a very good result,"
Guardiola told a news conference. "At 1-0 we perhaps should have
put more pressure on Real's goal. We'll try to continue in the
same vein so we can be champions."
The Catalan club are on 85 points from 32 matches, with Real
on 77, and also have a superior head-to-head record thanks to
their 5-0 demolition of Real at the Nou Camp in November that
would clinch the title if the pair finished level on points.
Guardiola's Real counterpart Jose Mourinho, a former Barca
assistant coach who eliminated them from last season's Champions
League while in charge at Inter Milan, said Albiol's dismissal
had made it impossible to win the match.
"It was a very balanced game when we were playing 11 against
11," he told a news conference.
"Barca is the best team in the world at holding on to the
ball," added the Portuguese, who was incensed that Alves was not
shown a second yellow card in the penalty incident. "With 11
against 10 they were able to do what they wanted."
Despite needing all three points to reignite their title
challenge, Mourinho opted for an unusually defensive lineup,
with playmaker Mesut Ozil relegated to the bench and centre-back
Pepe deployed as one of three defensive midfielders alongside
Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira.
Barca were content to play the ball around in midfield in
the early stages without making much progress towards goal,
while the home side looked to catch the visitors on the break.
Barca's first chance came in the 19th minute when Andres
Iniesta lifted a pass into Messi's path.
The World Player of the Year controlled the bouncing ball
with his head but goalkeeper Iker Casillas blocked his attempted
lob with relative ease.
Real were lucky not to concede a penalty shortly afterwards
when Casillas appeared to bring down his Spain team-mate Villa
in the penalty area without making contactn with the ball.
Marcelo then played Ronaldo through in the 34th minute but a
superb covering tackle from fullback Adriano Correia thwarted
the Portuguese forward.
A brilliant passing move involving Iniesta and Villa put
Messi clear again in the 44th and Casillas had to be at his best
to keep out the La Liga top scorer's fierce drive.
Real came desperately close to breaking the deadlock a
minute later but Adriano cleared Ronaldo's close-range header
off the line.
Ronaldo crashed a free-kick off the base of a post shortly
after the break before Albiol hauled Villa down and the referee
ruled he was the last man in defence and brandished a red card.
Messi's goal was his 30th in the league this season and his
first against a team coached by Jose Mourinho in 12 attempts
according to Barcelona, while Ronaldo's 29th of the campaign was
his first against the Catalan side in seven games.
The late equaliser lifted Real and their Germany midfielder
Khedira had a great chance to win the match in the final minute
but shot straight at Victor Valdes.
"We needed a win to maintain a realistic chance and it's a
result that puts us further away from the title," Real director
general Jorge Valdano said in an interview with Spanish TV.
"But as long as there is life there is hope and Real Madrid
never throws in the towel before the end," he added.
Europa League winners in 2015 will qualify for the Champions League the following season
Berlin will stage Champions League final for the first time in 2015
Borussia Dortmund's Mario Gotze ruled out of Champions League final against Bayern Munich
Manchester United centre-back Rio Ferdinand signs one-year contract
Ten years on, the legends speak to FFT
Your questions answered by an A to Z of legends
He's here, he's there, he's...
The cost of Premier League away travel
Nike CR7 IX for you
FourFourTwo is brought to you by Haymarket Consumer Media & FourFourTwo is part of Haymarket Sport
| International Licensing | © Haymarket Media Group 2010