Messi has fi­nal say in thrilling Cla­sico

Cata­lans climb above their ri­vals at top of the ta­ble af­ter breath­less game Madrid had come from be­hind to score late equaliser af­ter Ramos red card

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Front Page - SID LOWE at the Bern­abéu

The very last kick of the Clásico could not have been more per­fectly ex­e­cuted, nor more sig­nif­i­cant, Lionel Messi guid­ing the ball in­side the post and car­ry­ing his team to the top of the ta­ble. Just when it seemed that all was lost, there may be life in the La Liga ti­tle race af­ter all; there may be life in Barcelona too. With five games to go, Barcelona are lead­ers on head-to-head goal dif­fer­ence, and al­though Real Madrid have a game in hand, nothing feels im­pos­si­ble now.

Just 30 sec­onds ear­lier, it had done. James had scored with five min­utes to go, seem­ingly earn­ing Madrid a draw that was a vic­tory too: it was a goal that ap­peared an ap­pro­pri­ate way to vir­tu­ally win the league: down to 10 men, scored late, and by a sub­sti­tute too, yet an­other come­back and this time it was set to be de­ci­sive, sup­port­ers in the sta­dium ex­plod­ing.

Fi­nal sec­onds

But then with the fi­nal sec­onds tick­ing away, Sergi Roberto ran from deep and just kept run­ning. When the ball was pulled back, Messi curled it into the cor­ner.

He was still stand­ing at the north end of the sta­dium hold­ing out his shirt, dis­be­lief en­gulf­ing ev­ery­thing, when the ref­eree blew the fi­nal whis­tle.

Madrid be­gan like they wanted to end the ti­tle race here. Go- ing straight at Barcelona, they were ap­peal­ing for a penalty af­ter just 91 sec­onds, when Cris­tiano Ron­aldo tum­bled in the area. Re­plays sug­gested Sa­muel Umtiti had caught him as he went by. Barcelona were not com­fort­able and it took un­til the fifth minute for Messi to get a touch, but when he did the vis­i­tors breathed. Soon, the ball was theirs, even if the pres­sure was not al­ways eas­ily over­come and leav­ing space on the break was a risk they had to run.

That very first spell of pos­ses­sion led to a swift counter which al­lowed Cris­tiano Ron­aldo a shot. At the other end, An­drés Ini­esta’s shot was blocked and then Luis Suárez pulled his shot wide from the edge of the area.

When Madrid scored the open­ing goal on 28 min­utes, it came from a fa­mil­iar source – a set play.

Gareth Bale broke down the right, win­ning a cor­ner as Ger­ard Piqué slid in to stop it. Marc-An­dré ter Ste­gen could only punch away Toni Kroos’s cor­ner and Marcelo turned it back in, where Ser­gio Ramos nudged it against the post and Casemiro fol­lowed up. Madrid had the lead, the league ti­tle mov­ing ever closer.


Three min­utes later, Barcelona were level. Ser­gio Bus­quets found Ivan Rakitic on the right, who pulled it across the face of the area. Suárez let it run through his legs and Messi, sprinting for­ward, took it away from Mo­dric and Dani Car­va­jal and struck it un­der Key­lor Navas. It was a su­perb goal that had taken three touches. Messi scored it with a ban­dage still in his mouth, there since Marcelo had caught him with an el­bow 10 min­utes ear­lier.

Messi’s next shot was de­fected wide and a late break was ended by Casemiro as Messi dashed up the pitch. A mo­ment later, Ini­esta played in Alba be­hind Car­va­jal. Luis Suárez was rac­ing in on the far side, but Alba was un­able to find him. From the cor­ner, Navas missed it; he was for­tu­nate that so too did Messi. Leap­ing to make con­tact with his left foot, he steered the vol­ley wide from barely two yards.

The sec­ond half be­gan much like the first, Ter Ste­gen quickly hav­ing to tip wide a Kroos shot that brushed off the body of Ger­ard Piqué and was creep­ing i nsi de t he post. Then he blocked Ben­zema’s header from close range. Al­cácer then had a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity just by the penalty spot, but he toe-poked it straight at Navas. Messi’s free-kick swung over and then he slot­ted the ball through to Suárez, only for his touch to prove heavy. Navas then made a su­perb save from Piqué’s tow­er­ing header. This hadn’t even reached the quar­ter-hour yet.


Marco Asen­sio had re­placed Bale and he was dan­ger­ous ev­ery time Madrid came for­ward. From one run, he laid across to Ron­aldo, alone and eight yards out but the ball fell just be­hind him and he could only hook it over.

Navas then blocked Suárez from close range and beat away a shot from Messi. It was be­com­ing hard to keep up. Back at the other end, Ter Ste­gen saved sharply from Asen­sio.

Ivan Rakitic then re­stored the vis­i­tors’ lead, step­ping in­side from the right and send­ing the ball ar­row­ing into the far cor­ner.

It was about to get worse for Madrid, when Ramos was given a straight red card for a foul on Messi. It was a long way from goal, but the Ar­gen­tinian was threat­en­ing to es­cape up the right and the chal­lenge was wild and two-footed, Ramos off the ground. Suárez and Gomes com­bined to give Piqué a chance but from seven yards he smashed it straight at Navas.

There were just over 10 min­utes left and it was not done yet, al­though it might have been when Messi went on yet an­other run and, from the edge of the area, brought an­other save from Navas.

With five min­utes left James, on for Ben­zema ap­peared to made a vi­tal point for Real. Then came Messi.


Barcelona’s Lionel Messi cel­e­brates af­ter scor­ing a last-minute win­ning goal at the Bern­abéu last night.

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