Barcelona March on to Wembley

May 4, 2011

FC Barcelona are through to the final of the Champions League after gaining a 1-1 draw against Real Madrid with an assured second leg performance at the Camp Nou. Despite fielding a more attacking lineup than in previous Clásicos, Real Madrid were never able to put sustained pressure on what remains a relatively makeshift Barça defence.

After dominating the first half, it was the home side that took the lead when Pedro tucked the ball past Casillas to cap a fantastic team move. With the tie effectively sealed, Barcelona could afford a little carelessness, giving the ball away at the back, with Marcelo tapping home from an Ángel di María cutback.

The build up to this decisive second leg had been tempestuous in all senses of the word. After a week of blustery claim and counter-claim in the press, a real life thunderstorm broke out in the Barcelona skies, leaving plenty of surface water on the Camp Nou pitch.

Any fears that the conditions would hamper Barcelona’s passing game were quickly dispelled though, when a first-choice attacking six started zipping the ball around with characteristic style.

The visitors reduced to spectators once again. Madrid’s main contribution in the early exchanges was to ride their luck thanks to a series of rugged challenges by Ricardo Carvalho and Lassana Diarra.

When Lionel Messi drew a full-stretch save from Casillas on the 30-minute mark, Barça scented blood and created a flurry of opportunities; Villa, Pedro and Messi again all went close, with only some spectacular acrobatics by the Spain ‘keeper preventing Barcelona from extending their lead.

Perhaps revelling in the fortune of surviving this onslaught, there was renewed endeavour from the visitors after the break. Cristiano Ronaldo had his first opportunity to run at the Barcelona defence – when the Portuguese forward forced a challenge from Piqué, the ball broke for Gonzalo Higuain who curled the ball past Valdés.

Fortunately for Barcelona, referee Franck de Bleeckere had already blown up for a foul on Mascherano. Cristiano Ronaldo had rolled past Piqué onto the Argentine defender’s heels, preventing him from putting a challenge in on Higuain.

Barcelona responded almost instantly with a wonderful goal; the move started back with Víctor Valdés and culminated in a pinpoint pass by Iniesta through to Pedro Rodríguez. The winger showed no hesitation as he slotted into the bottom right corner to spark rapturous celebrations.

Now reassured by their massive advantage, Barça opted to slow the pace. But a moment of rare sloppiness at the back allowed di María to get in on goal. The Madrid winger smashed the ball off the post before directing the rebound to Marcelo who made no mistake. It was careless play by Barcelona, but would prove to be little more than a minor bump in the road.

There was still time for a heartwarming moment – Eric Abidal’s late entrance was greeted by huge cheers, as the French defender made his first appearance since recovering from a serious health scare.

1-0 Pedro (min 53)
1-1 Marcelo (min 68)

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