Football: Barcelona open their account: The champions' 2-1 win over Real Madrid saw the Spanish League get off to a breathless start. Alyson Rudd reports

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The Independent Online
If the Olympics left the city of Barcelona emotionally drained, then seven bookings, a red card, two stretcher cases and a dying- minute winning goal at the opening game of the Spanish football season must have exhausted it.

Fixtures do not come more heated than Barcelona against Real Madrid - the whistle around the Nou Camp stadium as Real emerged from the dressing room wrecked more than a few eardrums among the 95,000 present.

There was even more feeling between the sides before this match than usual. Real were left smarting at the end of last season when, after looking likely champions for most of the season, they tired in the home stretch, a collapse that culminated in a defeat by a moderate Tenerife side in the final game. Their demise left Barcelona to mop up the title, having already secured the European Cup at Wembley. Real replaced the Dutchman, Leo Beenhakker, with Benito Floro, the manager of Albacete, whose pre-season experiment with a flat back-four was likely to be put the test against a largely unchanged Barcelona side.

In fact Real held together well enough for the Barcelona manager, Johan Cruyff, to concede they generally won the midfield battle despite going a goal down after only four minutes, when Hristo Stoichkov, was allowed space to float in a cross that gave Jose-Maria Bakero the time to pick his spot.

To their credit Real rallied well and among the new talent on show was Robert Prosinecki returning after a season-long knee injury with a bang - at times literally with the Barca fans chucking firecrackers at his feet. The Croatian, who was sent off in the midweek friendly with Ajax, handled it all beautifully, hardly waiting for the taunts to die down before taking his corner kicks and summoning enough composure to craft his way out of defence and open up the Barcelona midfield.

Barcelona brought on Juan Antonio Goicoechea and Martinez Amor in an attempt to wrestle back the midfield initiative. Eventually a mistake by Amor allowed Luis Enrique a free run in the area only to be bundled by Eusebio. Michel, Real's penalty specialist, drew his team level.

Floro felt Real were unlucky when Barcelona took the points in the 88th minute, Stoichkov following in his own a parried shot, amid a melee which left Real's Paco Llorente with a cracked fibula.

Also on show for Real was their new signing, Ivan Zamorano. The Chilean striker is being followed by his native country's main radio station, but the millions of Chileans tuning into the live commentary just to hear the exploits of the country's favourite striker, were disappointed, with his best chance shot straight into Andoni Zubizarreta's arm.

Barcelona revealed glimpses of last season's form with Ronald Koeman impeccable as ever in defence. He said it was always difficult to play well against Real and it is usually a question of securing the points at any cost.

Significantly though, of the eight members of the Spanish national squad on show in the Nou Camp, six are Barcelona players.

Wednesday's international friendly against England is probably more important to Spain than it is to Graham Taylor. The new manager, Javier Clemente, has already shown he is not afraid to experiment, dropping the Real striker, Emilio Butragueno - an eight-year veteran of the national side.

'I am curious too,' Cruyff said. 'It is the first game for Spain with a new coach so we'll have to wait and see what happens.' Among Spain's new guard, the 21-year-old Barcelona defender Jose Guardiola looked particularly impressive, his distribution improving with each minute of the game. England will also have to watch out for Goicoechea who came on as substitute against Real and put in some exquisite crosses.

Clemente intends to build on the talent that secured Spain's gold medal at the Olympics. Spanish football is on a roll and Graham Taylor might not find the match in Santander the morale- booster he needs.

Goals: Bakero (4) 1-0; Michel (pen) (72) 1-1 ; Stoichkov (88) 2-1.

Barcelona: Zubizarreta; Ferrer, Guardiola (Amor, 66), Koeman, Juan Carlos, Bakero, Eusebio, Stoichkov, Laudrup, Nadal, Beguiristain (Goicoechea, 40). Substitutes not used: Pablo, Busquets, Witschge.

Real Madrid: Jaro; Chendo (Luis Enrique, 17), Lasa, Nando, Sanchis, Hierro, Butragueno (Alfonso, 70), Michel, Zamorano, Prosineki; Llorente. Substitutes not used: Rocha, Juanmi, Toril.

Referee: Antonio Lopez Nieto (Andaluz).

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