FOX Soccer Exclusive
Messi, Ronaldo put on two player show
After the dust settled, the score was tied: Lionel Messi 2, Cristiano Ronaldo 2. The world’s two greatest players – and not incidentally, the world’s two best soccer teams – finished level, but it was Barcelona who left the stadium the happier. Sunday’s draw with their arch rivals Real Madrid retains their eight point lead at the head of the standings.
All eyes were on Messi and Ronaldo throughout and they did not disappoint, both scoring two goals right out of the top drawer. As the game neared its conclusion it seemed the Catalans would strike a knock-out blow and take the game, but Jose Mourinho’s Madrid kept their guard up, rode their luck a little, and got the result which keeps the Primera Division title race alive – if only just.
“In no moment did I think a draw would be a good result for us,” said Barcelona’s coach Tito Vilanova after the game. “But I am happy with how we played through the match. If at the start of the season you had offered us this advantage, we would have snapped it up.”
LA LIGA RESULTS
|Saturday, October 20|
|Real Madrid||2-0||Celta Vigo|
|Sunday, October 21|
|Real Sociedad||0-1||Atletico Madrid|
|Monday, October 22|
|More: Scores | Stats | La Liga|
Mourinho had his usual moan at the referees after the game, but seemed to be happy with the final result.
“It was a great game for the fans to enjoy,” said Mourinho. “The result was in the balance right until the end.”
As expected, the game’s start was marked by the current political mood in Catalonia, and all four tiers of the stadium were wrapped before kick-off in the red and yellow colors of the region’s senyera flag. Most of the 98,000 present marked the 17:14 point by chanting "Independence! Independence!" to remember the fall of the city to Spanish troops in 1714.
But just six minutes later Ronaldo brought all minds back to the pitch, expertly ramming home with his left-foot from 10 yards to become the sixth man in history to score in six successive clasicos.
Dani Alves’ injury five minutes later further depleted the home defense, with Gerard Piqué not back fit in time and Alex Song discarded, meaning Barca were – as Vilanova stressed after the game – now missing their entire first choice back four. Sensing the opportunity Karim Benzema hit the post, but just as the mood around stadium was getting anxious, Pedro’s cross caused chaos in the Madrid defense, Pepe failed to clear and Messi pounced to hook in the equalizer.
The second period began with both sides loudly claiming penalties, but referee Delgado Ferrerio waved both away. Far more interesting was the continuing personal duel between the two talismans. First Ronaldo took his time over a 25 free-kick, but fired it straight at the wall. Just minutes later Messi flighted his deadball from similar range perfectly to the top corner of Iker Casillas's net.
Barca seemed rampant and the Portuguese star was soon receiving jeers from the happy home crowd after falling on his back when trying a spectacular volley. Within seconds Ronaldo had made them eat their words again by stroking home first-time to level the score again after the Barca defense had been cut open by Mesut Ozil’s rapier pass.
Even though Madrid needed the points more given their position in the table, the late drama was in front of its goal. With Ronaldo looking hurt, Mourinho’s changes seemed designed to secure the draw, but they leaked chances and substitute right-back Martín Montoya cracked a 25-yard shot off the crossbar on 88 minutes.
Just as Sunday’s match was in the balance until the dying seconds, as is race for the 2012 FIFA Ballon D’Or award. Both Ronaldo and Messi now have eight goals in seven La Liga games this season, the Argentine has 53 strikes so far in 2012, the Portuguese 47. Few would like to be on the judging panel tasked with splitting them.
“Talk about 'the best player in the world' should be forbidden,” said Mourinho. “Both are from another planet, I would like my player to win, but the two are fantastic.”
This was one “Special One” statement which even few of the fans streaming out into the balmy Barcelona night would argue with. Rarely, if ever, have soccer fans had the chance to enjoy such a personal duel between the two best players around, with each seemingly pushing the other to ever greater heights, and meeting so often across all competitions.
Mixing sport and politics is always difficult, but few soccer supporters would vote for Catalan independence and their own league if it meant breaking this rivalry up.
Dermot Corrigan is a freelance Irish sportswriter who lives in Madrid and writes about soccer for several publications, including FOXSoccer.com, Sport 360°, When Saturday Comes and Iberosphere. Contact him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan.
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