Pique lifts Barcelona as Cla­sico lives up to hype

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

Ger­ard Pique de­liv­ered Barcelona’s match win­ner over Real Madrid on Satur­day as El Cla­sico Mi­ami lived up to the hype. The Span­ish in­ter­na­tional steered in a Neymar free-kick in the 50th minute to seal a 3-2 win for the Cata­lan gi­ants in front of 66,014 at the Hard Rock Sta­dium. Lionel Messi, who put in a su­perb 64minute per­for­mance, opened the scor­ing af­ter just three min­utes and when Ivan Rakitic dou­bled the lead soon af­ter, the writ­ing ap­peared to be on the wall for a slug­gish Real Madrid side.

Yet Zine­dine Zi­dane’s side quickly woke from their slum­ber and by the end of the first half, goals from Ma­teo Ko­vacic and Marco Asen­sio had pulled them level. What fol­lowed was en­ter­tain­ing, of­ten breath­less friendly fare be­fore Pique struck that de­ci­sive goal.

This was noth­ing more than a pre-sea­son match and ob­vi­ously wasn’t go­ing to af­fect the over­all record be­tween these two old ri­vals, which stands at 93 wins for Real, 91 for Barcelona. Their last meet­ing was quite in­cred­i­ble. Messi’s last gasp win­ner, his 500th for the club - it was quite a night.

Madrid had the last laugh in May, win­ning La Liga and the Cham­pi­ons League, but ac­tu­ally ar­rived in Mi­ami off the back of two ex­hi­bi­tion de­feats - a penalty shoot-out de­feat to Manch­ester United be­fore City also did a num­ber on them in Los An­ge­les, run­ning out 4-2 win­ners. Barca, mean­while, had beaten United and Ju­ven­tus in In­ter­na­tional Cham­pi­ons Cup friendly com­pe­ti­tion, but the on­go­ing un­cer­tainty sur­round­ing Neymar and the in­ter­est from Paris Saint-Ger­main has cast a se­ri­ous cloud over their two-week stay in North Amer­ica.

The Brazil­ian started for Ernesto Valverde’s side and while the rest of his team-mates head home he will fly to China to per­form com­mer­cial obli­ga­tions on be­half of the club. To their credit, and much to the ob­vi­ous de­light of the or­gan­is­ers, both teams didn’t hold back with their start­ing line­ups.

Messi and Luis Suarez started in at­tack while Bale, Mo­dric and Karim Ben­zema were all un­leashed by Madrid man­ager Zine­dine Zi­dane. Neymar’s first in­volve­ment was to fall to the ground and clutch his an­kle. For a mo­ment it looked like his evening would be over be­fore it be­gan, though he was back on the pitch in time to see Messi open the scor­ing with just three min­utes on the clock.

The Ar­gen­tine ace waltzed into the box and lifted a shot past Key­lor Navas via a de­flec­tion off Raphael Varane. And it wasn’t long be­fore the Costa Ri­can in­ter­na­tional was pick­ing the ball out of the back of the net once again.

NEYMAR SETS UP PIQUE

On six min­utes, Neymar, grad­u­ally mov­ing more freely, squared the ball and it found Rakitic, whose fin­ish was clin­i­cally struck in the sev­enth minute. What a start for Barcelona. Real had barely es­caped their own half and were lucky not to fall fur­ther be­hind on 13 min­utes when Suarez fired over from close range. Yet with Madrid’s first ef­fort on goal, Zi­dane’s side pulled one back. Croa­t­ian Ko­vacic evaded a chal­lenge just out­side the box be­fore ar­row­ing the ball past the out­stretched hand of Jasper Cil­lessen.

Sud­denly, the game was on. Ben­zema, who’d barely had a sniff, dragged just wide on 19 min­utes with Cil­lessen beaten. Navas re­mained the busier keeper, how­ever, and was on hand to re­pel Messi once again on 31 min­utes.

It was a key save be­cause on 36 min­utes, Asen­sio lev­elled for Madrid. Los Blan­cos were counter-at­tack­ing dan­ger­ously and it was left to Mo­dric who squared for the Spa­niard who took full ad­van­tage of Jordi Alba miss­ing the ball to ri­fle past a hor­ri­bly ex­posed Cil­lessen.

Both teams re­tained their star men af­ter the res­tart and it was Neymar whose pin­point free­kick was steered home by Pique in the 50th. While the clash of the Span­ish ri­vals was sup­pos­edly a friendly, Rakitic was lucky to es­cape a red card just af­ter the hour mark when he ap­peared to push ref­eree Jair Mar­rufo.

Neymar de­parted on 72 min­utes in what could have been his fi­nal per­for­mance in Barcelona col­ors. If it was, those in­side the Hard Rock Sta­dium-home of the NFL’s Mi­ami Dol­phins-won’t for­get it. — AFP

MI­AMI GAR­DENS: Barcelona cel­e­brate with the tro­phy af­ter de­feat­ing Real Madrid 3-2 in their In­ter­na­tional Cham­pi­ons Cup 2017 match at Hard Rock Sta­dium on Satur­day in Mi­ami Gar­dens, Florida. — AFP

MI­AMI GAR­DENS: Casemiro #14 of Real Madrid and Neymar #11 of Barcelona vie for the ball dur­ing their In­ter­na­tional Cham­pi­ons Cup 2017 match at Hard Rock Sta­dium on Satur­day in Mi­ami Gar­dens, Florida. —AFP

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