Madrid defender Varane shines against Barcelona
It was supposed to be another night featuring the scoring
prowess of rival stars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Instead, a little-known 19-year-old French defender named
Raphael Varane single-handedly rescued Real Madrid in a 1-1 draw
with Barcelona in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals.
Varane started for the short-handed Madrid with both of coach
Jose Mourinho’s first-choice center backs unavailable.
While Barcelona had various scoring chances that they simply
failed to finish off, Varane rose to the occasion and made key
interventions in defense before capping his stellar performance
with a header to equalize nine minutes from the end.
”It’s like a dream come true, incredible to score a goal like
that against Barcelona at just 19,” Varane said. ”Mourinho told
me to give it my all, and after the game my teammates congratulated
me. It wasn’t the best result, but at least it left it wide
Madrid newspapers celebrated the draw as if it were a victory,
with all the praise going to Varane. Spanish newspaper El Pais ran
the headline ”Barca can’t handle Varane,” while Madrid-friendly
sports daily Marca splashed ”Colossal” over a huge photo of
Varane on the cover of its print edition.
On Thursday, France coach Didier Deschamps selected Varane for
Wednesday’s friendly match against Germany, where he could make his
Messi and Ronaldo appeared set to put on another scoring display
to match the goals they netted in their teams’ 2-2 draw the last
time they met in league play in October.
But Messi was always outnumbered in his frustrated attempts to
dribble through the middle of Madrid’s defensive line anchored by
Varane and little-used veteran Ricardo Carvalho.
Ronaldo was also oddly subdued and even lacking in precision
when he did have an excellent chance to score from a cross by
Michael Essien in the second half, breaking his run of scoring
goals in six consecutive meetings with Barcelona.
Messi’s own streak of scoring in 16 consecutive starts for
Barcelona came to a halt in a game where he was aiming to get at
least one goal to equal Madrid legend Alfredo Di Stefano’s record
of 18 goals in ”clasico” matches.
The four-time world player of the year did come through,
however, in the 50th minute when he intercepted a clearance and
played Cesc Fabregas through to shoot beyond goalkeeper Diego
Varane had already scrambled to block a goal-bound strike by
Xavi Hernandez early on. He then deployed a surprising burst of
quickness to track back and disrupt Fabregas’ encroachment six
minutes after his opener to keep Madrid alive, before showing both
strength and deft use of his height to level late from a corner
”Varane, as a defender, couldn’t have played better,” said
Madrid assistant Aitor Karanka, speaking in place of Mourinho. ”He
played a perfect game, scoring the goal to draw, clearing balls
from the goal line. His progress is phenomenal. He has his head on
straight and is only going to keep getting better.”
The soft-spoken Varane joined Madrid from French club Lens in
2010 without much fanfare. He made 15 appearances for the team in
his first season, scoring twice.
Halfway through this season, he has played in 18 games for the
defending Spanish league champions to fill in for the injured Pepe
and fellow center back Sergio Ramos, who has just completed a
five-game suspension for insulting a referee.
The second leg of the semifinals will be at the Camp Nou on Feb.
”We left angry,” Barcelona defender Dani Alves said Thursday.
”We didn’t take advantage of the scoring chances we had, but we
know that the series will be decided at home.”