Saturday 10 December 2016

Messi torments Madrid

Argentinian wizard bags brace in heated affair as Barcelona seize control
Real Madrid 0
Barcelona 2

Henry Winter, in Madrid

Published 28/04/2011 | 07:23

Two moments of beauty stood out amid the beastliness of the Game of Shame last night.

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Two moments from the best player in the world Lionel Messi, his second goal echoing Diego Maradona's dribbled gem against England in 1986, rescued this match from the dark ages.

Otherwise this was the game that dignity forgot. There was no respect, no charm, no integrity. It was scarred by play-acting from both sides and some bad tackles, notably from Real's Pepe, who was dismissed for a studs-up challenge on Dani Alves. Now Alves would be deemed too theatrical for RADA but it was still a reckless challenge.

Real's coach, Jose Mourinho, was soon so enraged that he was sent to the stands. He could only watch in frustration as the Barcelona sub Ibrahim Affelay dribbled past Marcelo, and creating Messi's first.

The Argentinian's 52nd goal of another remarkable season was epic, and surely sets up a final against Manchester United at Wembley on May 28. Alex Ferguson, who was here last night, must make special plans for Messi and Xavi. Real fans will look on from afar and wonder whether Mourinho's tactics, focusing on containment, had cost them dear.

The exhortation from the home fans to their idols had been clear. One banner, unfurled as Ronaldo and company lined up, said it all: "'Live For You So Win For Us'.

The first half indicated that containment and frustration was more in Real minds. It was a poor period, scarred by play-acting, and a lack of ambition by Mourinho's men. It was a horrible game really, full of red cards and diving, a poor advertisement for a league that usually celebrates technique. Clasico, Crashico.

The Special One had again sought to confuse Barcelona with an attack that lacked an orthodox centre-forward. With Emmanuel Adebayor, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain among £140m worth of talent on the bench, Real started with Ronaldo through the middle flanked by Mesut Ozil and the left-sided Angel di Maria. There was little central focus and it was little surprised when Adebayor arrived for Ozil at the break.

Barcelona had known they were in for a test; people had kept talking about glimpses of vulnerability.

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Their defence had Carles Puyol at left-back and Javier Mascherano at centre-half, his early hesitancy almost exploited by Ronaldo. But there is so much skill within the Catalan ranks.

Xavi gave early notice, a meaty volley into Iker Casillas's arms. Real responded, Ronaldo trying his luck from range but failing to trouble Victor Valdes.

Barcelona soon settled. Xavi was trying to dictate the rhythm. So Pepe tracked his movement, so did Lass Diarra, clipping his heels. It was not pretty.

Xavi was undeterred, trying to push on, linking well with Lionel Messi after 12 minutes, sweeping the ball wide to Pedro, whose cross was cleared.

As Real stood off, Barcelona were enjoying the ball's company for long periods. After 16 minutes, Ronaldo shouted for his team-mates to squeeze up, to assist him in closing down Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets. The Bernabeu crowd shared his frustration, whistling as Barcelona were allowed to build. Real were too cautious, too focused on the tactics of denial.

Ronaldo was a ray of light. Real briefly began raising their game, Marcelo embarking on a rampaging run through Alves and Mascherano. Real's fans loved it, believing it might prove a catalyst.

Containment seemed the main aim of Real, who were mindful of conceding an away goal. Barcelona looked the likelier to open the scoring.

One glorious move saw them at their inventive, fast-moving best. Messi turned away from Xabi Alonso, passed to Villa, whose effort was saved.

Moments of skills did arise from Real, notably a wonderful Ronaldo back-heel, but the threat continued to emanate mainly from Guardiola's side. Just before the half-hour, Xavi shot over. Back came Barcelona again, Sergio Busquets finding Messi, whose nimble nature again wrong-footed Real. He slipped Xavi through but Casillas dealt with it.

Barcelona fans were chanting abuse about Mourinho, drawing a stinging retort from the locals.

The temperature, stoked in those infamous press conferences, continued to rise. The half concluded with tempers spilling over. Alvaro Arbeloa body-checked Pedro. Marcelo caught Busquets, triggering a flare-up between Alonso and Pique.

Ronaldo kept his cool, although two free-kicks thudded into the smallest wall imaginable, a two-man barricade of Messi and Villa. Ronaldo startled Victor Valdes with one 25-yarder but Barcelona survived.

As the players walked off at the break, the small riot erupted, involving both benches and members of the back-room staff. Barcelona's reserve keeper, Jose Pinto, was sent off for whacking Arbeloa.

The carnage continued in the second half. Ramos was booked for elbowing Messi, and misses next week's second leg. Then Pepe went in high Alves, earning a red card. Barcelona players milked it, surrounding poor Stark. Puyol and Mourinho had a brisk debate over rival philosophies on the touchlines.

Soon Mourinho was banished to the stands, the embarrassments continuing for the hosts. Then came that moment of magic from Barcelona. Affelay had arrived and had immediately started running hungrily at Marcelo.

Never the most defensively expert, Marcelo was comprehensively beaten by Affelay, whose cross was perfectly weighted for Messi to beat Casillas.

With a goal and man advantage, Barcelona simply worked the ball around the white shirts, intensifying the Real supporters' angst. They soon began heading for the exits five minutes from time when Barcelona added a sensational second. Messi picked up the ball 50 yards out and just runs and runs, echoing Maradona against England. He beat Diarra, Ramos, Albiol and Marcelo before sliding the ball past Casillas.

Barcelona fans were loving it, taunting their Real counterparts, and chanting "Time to go, Mourinho". (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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