The world of football came to a halt on Wednesday as Barcelona traveled to the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium to face off against Real Madrid in El Clasico.
The Copa del Rey first-leg encounter was tipped to be very intense and the anticipation was easily rewarded. Both clubs played very sharp, aggressive football and it was hard to claim that one team deserved to win over the other.
Somewhat poetically, the match ended in a 1-1 draw. Each team had their chances and mistakes and a draw is absolutely the most justified final that could have happened.
With a road goal, Barcelona has the edge in the second leg, but as we have just seen, anything is possible. The tie is entirely up in the air and fans will hope that excitement continues in the return leg.
The game could not have started worse for Barcelona. Defender Gerard Pique was issued a yellow card in the first minute for fouling Ronaldo and the Portuguese star nearly scored from the free kick.
Real Madrid took the game over from that point. Los Blancos continued to put pressure on Barcelona and did an extremely good job at disrupting the Tiki-Taka action.
The Madrid-based club nearly scored on several opportunities.
A cross from Karim Benzema should have led to a goal, but the pass was just too high for the streaking Ronaldo. Later in the game, Benzema had a chance to score himself, but hit the side netting.
Mesut Ozil was pulling all the strings for Real Madrid and was vital in every attack.
The last chance for Real Madrid came when Jose Callejon sent a low cross across the face of the goal, but Dani Alves displayed world-class defending by sliding in to break up the play.
Barcelona also had many chances in the first half, but their overall play was just not as sharp as Real Madrid.
A linkup between Cesc Fábregas and Lionel Messi nearly led to a goal, but the linesman raised the flag and the chance went missing. Messi spent most of the first half hounded constantly.
Xavi had what some would call the best chance of the half when his free kick hit the post, but bad luck continued to hurt Barcelona.
Barcelona should have scored in the first half, but Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane played hero.
A bad pass back from Carvalho saw Fábregas beat the keeper and play the ball back to Xavi. With an open goal, the midfielder fired to put his team ahead, but Varane soared in and cleared the ball off the line.
Nearing the end of the first half, tempers were flaring. Both sides became much more aggressive and the game took on a new dynamic.
Nevertheless, the score would sit at 0-0 as the Spanish giants entered halftime.
The first half was certainly exciting and both teams had their moments of brilliance and weakness. But it was Real Madrid who looked the strongest at the break.
The second half started in the complete opposite way as the first. Barcelona finally settled into their rhythm and began to give Real Madrid real trouble.
For all of the Real Madrid chances that the game had already seen, Barcelona was able to find the back of the net first.
Messi played a loose ball into the path of Fábregas, who sped forward and unleashed a beautiful shot past Diego Lopez to give Barcelona the lead. The goal certainly gave the Catalans confidence, as they then took over the game.
Cesc nearly had a second goal minutes later, but Varane again played hero. The Frenchman crucially tackled the ball away from the midfielder and the score was kept at just 1-0.
Chances eventually came to Real Madrid, but luck did not appear to be on their side.
Michael Essien sent in a wonderful cross which met Ronaldo, but the winger sent the point-blank chance wide and was clearly upset with his play. It would not be his only chance of the night, though.
Merely five minutes later, a ball was played to Ronaldo, who had an empty net in front of him. Luckily for Barcelona, Pique came across the box and slid to break up what surely would have been a goal.
After a few chances for Los Blancos, Barcelona was able to take control again.
Dani Alves found Cesc in the box, but the midfielder put his shot wide in yet another shocking moment of the game. Only minutes later, Pedro found himself alone with the keeper and just missed tucking the ball into the corner.
The game began to die down a bit, but Real Madrid would not be silenced.
A cross was sent into the box and none other than Raphael Varane met the pass to head past Pinto to level the match. The young defender absolutely deserved the goal, as he was clearly the best player on the pitch in this contest.
Real Madrid then seemed to get a bit more confidence after the goal, as they began to test the Barcelona defense. However, nothing seemed to be coming for Los Blancos.
With three minutes of extra time then added, the game was up for grabs, as neither club wanted to settle for a draw. Real Madrid had a few late chances, but the game concluded in a solid draw.
Pressure will be on both clubs when Barcelona host Real Madrid in the return leg, but there is clearly no favorite to advance. Fans will be eagerly anticipating the next encounter, but for now, congratulations to both clubs on a very satisfying El Clasico to begin 2013.
Who should have won? Who will take the tie at Camp Nou? Don't forget to leave your thoughts and comments below.
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