Football: Ronaldo gives Robson a lift

Barcelona 1 Ronaldo 45 Real Madrid 0 Attendance: 115,000
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The Independent Online
IT WAS a small tap-in for Ronaldo, but possibly a giant leap for Bobby Robson. In injury-time in the first half in the battle between the old enemies of the Spanish League, the Brazilian clinched a 1-0 victory for Barcelona, and raised the possibility that they could still steal a Spanish championship that is Real Madrid's to lose.

Everton, Celtic, and any other potential contenders for the services of Robson will have to wait. Last night's result puts Barcelona five points behind Real with five games left to play. Real face some difficult fixtures, including a game against Atletico Madrid and there is a question-mark as to how high their morale will be for the run-in to the championship, Fabio Capello, their manager, having announced his intention to leave the club at the end of the season.

Robson said before the game that it was as big as any he had taken part in during his 40-year career in football. He knew that failure to beat Real at home is the most unforgivable sin a Barcelona coach can commit. On the other hand, he knew that victory in what he described as the biggest club fixture in the world would motivate his players for the European Cup-Winners' Cup final on Wednesday in Rotterdam against Paris St-Germain.

Barcelona are already in the Spanish cup final and Robson could further silence his vociferous critics in Barcelona by adding that trophy to Barcelona's ample collection of titles.

It was not a pretty game. It was not a game at all. It was a war. As Robson described it before the game, Barcelona football club is Catalonia's army against the old Castillian empire, whose own troops are represented by Real. The game had eight yellow cards - four for each team.

Two Barcelona players had to leave the field injured within 20 minutes of the first half, Giovanni, the young Brazilian international, was replaced by Gica Popescu and Miguel Angel Nadal, the Spanish national team's central defender, made way for Hristo Stoichkov. The main Real culprit was the Brazilian left-back, Roberto Carlos. Every time he touched the ball, the 115,000-strong army on the terraces bayed for blood.

Barcelona had the bulk of possession as the second half came to a close, Robson's replacements amply justifying his faith, and in the 46th minute Roberto Carlos brought down Luis Figo, who was the best player on the pitch, and Ronaldo took the penalty. The goalkeeper, Bodo Illgner, parried Ronaldo's shot, but Figo raced in for the rebound and flicked it inside for Ronaldo, who nudged the ball into the open goal.

Real began the second half looking as if they meant business but they missed two golden chances before Barcelona resumed control of the game, to cruise to victory.

When the final whistle blew there was a roar from the crowd to greet the second coming. Barcelona's president may now have a tougher decision over who will be his coach next year than he might have imagined before the game began.

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