Messi Grabs Advantage for Barcelona

April 28, 2011

Lionel Messi struck twice to hand FC Barcelona a massive advantage in their Champions League semi-final tie with bitter rivals Real Madrid. It was another ill-humoured Clásico, repeatedly interrupted by squabbles and niggling fouls, but come the final whistle the Blaugrana side were in a justified ascendancy, taking a 2-0 lead to next week’s match at the Camp Nou.

Barcelona had the upper hand throughout, but the game’s turning point came on the 60th minute with a red card for Pepe after a crude studs-up lunge on Dani Alves. Lionel Messi then seized the initiative, poking an Afellay cross beneath Casillas from close range, then embarking on a jinking run from the centre circle, beating five players and slotting home.

In hindsight, the build-up to this monumental first leg was a sign of things to come. Pep Guardiola had elected to stand up to Jose Mourinho by bristling at the Madrid manager’s recent provocation at Tuesday’s press conference. And this tetchy atmosphere was carried onto the Bernabéu pitch.

The first half was reminiscent of the recent confrontations between these two clubs; Barcelona were trying to set the tempo, with Pedro and Villa hugging the left and right touchlines, trying to furnish Messi and Xavi with some space against a compact Madrid formation.

Their counterparts were far less enterprising – opting instead to find Cristiano Ronaldo on the counter attack and gain territorial advantage via set pieces.

There were plenty of petty fouls followed by shrill protestations and theatrics, perhaps a consequence of Mourinho’s pre-match fixation with referees. But amid the fractious exchanges Barcelona did manage to carve a couple of notable chances.

Pulling in off the right wing, Villa cut onto his weaker left foot and curled a 20-yard effort past Casillas’ right post. Later, Messi squirmed through three challenges before slipping a clever pass to Xavi, but Barça’s captain was denied at the near post.

The half-time whistle was met with an ugly skirmish at the mouth of the tunnel. The result was a red card for Pinto, leaving Barcelona without a substitute ‘keeper for the second half.

The opening minutes of the second period picked up where the first had left off. Barça were probing and circulating the ball, while Real Madrid were lying in wait for a counter attack. There was still plenty of hostility, and a series of tit-for-tat fouls eventually culminated in Pepe’s deserved red card for his reckless challenge on Aves. Jose Mourinho’s sarcastic applause for the stricken Barça fullback was also rewarded with a sending off.

After ceding possession for an hour, Real Madrid no longer had the legs to close down space now they had to play with ten men. Chances for Villa and Pedro were followed by 15 minutes of pure magic from Lionel Messi.

After a vital first goal, he capped a glorious night for a Barça with a world-class effort that placed his team firmly in the driving seat.

0-1, Messi (min 76)
0-2, Messi (min 87)

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