Abidal Grabs Rare Goal in Brave Victory

January 19, 2012

FC Barcelona deservedly gained the upper hand in the Copa del Rey quarter-final, defeating a rugged Real Madrid 1-2 at the Santiago Bernabéu. After going behind to an early Cristiano Ronaldo goal, Barça stormed back with strikes from Puyol and Abidal.

The early exchanges were frantic, with neither side able to keep possession for more than two or three passes. This was playing into Madrid’s hands, who were seeking to break quickly and directly at every opportunity, given their three pacy forwards and absence of an attacking midfielder. It was from such a counter-attack that they took the lead after just 11 minutes.

Cristiano Ronaldo exploited the space behind Dani Alves, latching onto a Benzema pass, powering into the Barça area and wrong-footing Piqué before dispatching a low strike between Pinto’s legs to put Madrid ahead.

Really, it was to be their last attack of note before the break, and for the rest of the first half the onus was on Barcelona to find a way back. Iniesta began to shine, testing Casillas at the near-post from the edge of the area, later getting onto an Alexis layoff but skewing his effort just wide on the left side of goal.

In between Cesc did well to spot Alexis dropping behind Ramos and Coentrão, and curled a pass that Alexis, backpedalling, could only head onto the bar with Casillas completely stranded. Busquets then set up Messi down the inside-left Channel, but Real’s ‘keeper was alert and made another low near-post save.

But as the half wore on Madrid began to enjoy some success by closing down quickly in midfield and occasionally disrupting the game’s flow with niggling fouls. Just before the half-time whistle, first Alexis then Messi looked clean through in potential one-on-one situations but were incorrectly flagged offside.

Barcelona began the second half with renewed vigour, and were rewarded almost immediately. Xavi swung a corner in from the left side and Puyol stooped to head home unmarked from six yards. It was the ideal start, and Iniesta was so close to making it two when Cesc lifted a stylish pass over the top for him to volley, but Ramos’ intervention saw the ball cannon off the outside of the post.

Madrid’s response nearly saw them regain the lead – Altintop beat Iniesta down the right with some skill and sent a deep cross the Benzema headed onto the post from an acute angle. This let-off aside, Barcelona were gaining the upper hand, and Los Blancos’ apparent solution was to kick anything that moved. Pepe was looking out of control – replays caught him stamping on Messi’s hand, but Carvalho, Ramos and Alonso were equally guilty of trying to intimidate their opponents.

At this stage only Barça looked capable of snatching another, and the did just this when Messi showed great vision to spot Abidal, flicking a perfect pass to the left-back, who controlled it on his chest and angled it past Casillas from close range.

1-0 Cristiano (min 10)
1-1 Puyol (min 48)
1-2 Abidal (min 76)

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