Barcelona reaches Champions League final

Barcelona reached the Champions League final after a 1-1 draw

against Real Madrid on Tuesday completed a 3-1 aggregate win in the

final installment of a four-match series between Spain’s bitter

rivals.

Andres Iniesta returned from injury to thread a perfect through

ball to Pedro Rodriguez for the 54th minute opener before Angel Di

Maria found Marcelo with a short pass for Madrid’s equalizer 10

minutes later.

Barcelona goes for its second Champions League title in three

seasons under coach Pep Guardiola as the Spanish champion did its

bit for a possible repeat of the 2009 final against Manchester

United, which leads Schalke 2-0 in the other semifinal. The final

takes place on May 28 at Wembley, where Barca won its first

Champions League title in 1992.

As in the first leg, Barcelona dominated a defensive Madrid,

which was without banned coach Jose Mourinho for the match in the

steady rain at the Camp Nou Stadium, but the second leg provided a

far more absorbing contest than the first.

”Football justice was served,” Barcelona midfielder Xavi

Hernandez said. ”The best team got through.”

Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas kept the visitors in touch with

a number of superb saves from Lionel Messi in the first half and

would have been back in the tie had Gonzalo Higuain’s not been

disallowed at the start of the second half.

Cristiano Ronaldo went down under a challenge from Gerard Pique

and, in falling, clipped the heel of Javier Mascherano, before

Higuain put the ball in the net. Referee Frank De Bleeckere pulled

play back for Ronaldo’s foul on Mascherano.

”Another (setback), like always,” Casillas said after

Barcelona’s players celebrated on the pitch. ”We’re not going to

get upset because it will just be used against us.”

Barcelona struck after that as Pedro gathered Iniesta’s pass

alone inside the area before beating Casillas with a low,

left-footed shot.

Madrid did come away with its first goal at the Camp Nou since

2007 when Xabi Alonso fed Di Maria in the 64th. Di Maria broke into

the area and beat Victor Valdes but not the near post, although the

ball bounced right back to the Argentina forward to slide a short

pass over to Marcelo for the equalizer.

Spanish champion Barcelona will now go for its fourth European

title and third since 2006. Madrid, meanwhile, comes away from the

four-game series between the historic rivals with just the Copa del

Rey trophy.

”The last 20 days have been really hard, a lot of tension,”

Guardiola said before praising his opponent despite a series of

matches marked by taunting, hostility and accusations. ”(They’re)

probably the best team in the world apart from my team,

maybe.”

Madrid assistant coach Aitor Karanka – in charge with Mourinho

reportedly watching from the comforts of his team hotel – insisted

there was no communication with Mourinho, although he knew his

feelings afterward.

”Mourinho is right – after the (last) game he said it was

impossible for us to go forward,” said Karanka, who said he spoke

to Mourinho right after the whistle.

”He said congratulations to everyone. He’s feeling angry about

what we’ve seen in the last few games with the referees.”

With goals needed, the Portuguese coach made changes from the

first leg with Kaka replacing Mesut Oezil and Higuain starting.

Defenders Pepe and Sergio Ramos were both suspended.

Barcelona fielded all eight of its World Cup winners as Iniesta

returned after missing the bad-tempered opener that has UEFA

examining six charges against the clubs, who were facing off for

the fourth time in 18 days with a chance to play for Europe’s

biggest prize at stake.

The tentative start featured more of the bruising play that

accompanied the first leg as Barcelona controlled possession but

only began to pepper Casillas’ goal once Madrid’s upfield pressure

slackened.

Needing at least two goals just to force extra-time, Casillas

kept Madrid in the game with three classy saves inside a

four-minute blitz led by Messi.

Casillas dived to his right to snatch the Argentina forward’s

32nd-minute chance before somehow getting a hand up to deny David

Villa’s curling shot after a Barcelona break.

The Spain goalkeeper also watched chances from Messi and Pedro

Rodriguez fly wide before denying Messi’s low shot through the

crowd.

As the defense grappled to contain Messi, Madrid’s attack didn’t

manage a shot on goal until just before Pedro’s opener.

Madrid appeared to find some rhythm after the restart as it

began to press forward with more authority while the assistants on

the bench appeared to receive tactical instructions through a

hand-held computer.

But De Bleeckere’s call and Pedro’s goal appeared to deflate the

visitors, although substitutes Emmanuel Adebayor and Oezil helped

offensively as Marcelo equalized from Madrid’s lone shot on

target.

”That would have been the first step in the comeback,” Alonso

said. ”We’re upset, hurt to not go through because of so many

wrong decisions.”

As Barcelona looked to close out the game, Guardiola brought on

Eric Abidal in the 90th minute for his first appearance since

undergoing surgery to remove a liver tumor in March.