Barcelona book return to site of their most famous triumph
Barcelona 1 Real Madrid 1 (Barcelona win 3-1 on aggregate)
Wednesday 04 May 2011
Barcelona are back at Wembley 19 years after their famous "Dream Team" lifted the club's first European Cup there. With no Jose Mourinho in the dugout and 22 players left on the pitch at the end there was a surreal feel to the last of the four clasicos, but one thing was as it should be – the world's best team will be playing in the world's biggest club game on 28 May.
Watching the drama unfold from the Real Madrid's team hotel, Mourinho, who elected not to attend the match, will point to more refereeing injustice. Had Gonzalo Higuain's goal not been ruled out for an adjudged push from Cristiano Ronaldo on Javier Mascherano when the game was goalless, Real may have come back into the tie.
But having been foiled in the first half by a superb string of Iker Casillas saves Barça immediately took the lead in the 54th minute with Pedro scoring from Andres Iniesta's pass.
In truth the game was won in the first leg by Lionel Messi. Even those undecided about who was more to blame for the unsightly incidents that marred the game at the Bernabeu last week will rejoice that he will play in the season's showpiece final.
Real were better than they were at home a week ago and Marcelo equalised on the night but they, and possibly the referee, had made their mistakes in the first game. Against football's finest there was no way they were ever going to become the first team to beat Pep Guardiola's side by more than a two-goal margin at the Nou Camp.
Mourinho had laid the foundations for his non-appearance last week when he wrote off Real's chances of turning the tie around. Such was the lack of conviction among the Madrid fans they had sent back 3,000 of their ticket allocation.
The 1,600 travelling supporters who did brave the conditions were up in the gods as the pre-match rain came down. A week's worth had fallen in the hour leading up to the game but that did not stop Barcelona briefly turning on the sprinklers – the pitch could not be too wet for the home side it seemed.
The omens for Real were as grim as the conditions. Never had a side come back from a two-goal deficit away from home in a semi-final. There was at least a different attitude from Madrid in the second leg.
Real started the game pressurising Barcelona far higher up the pitch than they had in the first game. Why they had waited for the second leg to do so only Mourinho in the nearby team hotel knew.
Ronaldo looked especially motivated and he flew past three defenders down the left and tried to send Kaka away as Real made the early running. The ball was holding up in surface water but the pass still ran too long for the Brazilian.
Messi raced clear at the other end and was brought down by Ricardo Carvalho who became the first booking of the night. Referee Frank de Bleeckere indicated it had been the Portuguese defender's second offence, mistaking him for Raul Albiol who he had already lectured.
Real were even enjoying spells of possession, but leaving space behind they were subject to Messi-driven counter attacks. The Argentine was flattened by Lassana Diarra as he went through on goal only for the referee to wave play on. Ronaldo saw less of the ball after the bright start while Messi continued to threaten. He drew a fine save from Casillas who then had to keep out David Villa's effort spectacularly after Messi had played him in.
Casillas' one-man resistance continued to half time – the Spain goalkeeper brilliantly keeping out a low drive from Messi. Barcelona had peppered Real's goal with eight first-half shots and only Casillas had stopped them securing their place at Wembley before half-time.
Despite the improved performance the visitors had not mustered a shot and with another late challenge right on half-time from Carvalho they could easily have been down to 10 men before the break.
The only man coming on at half-time was regular Nou Camp pitch invader Jimmy Jump who had presumably been planning an assault on Mourinho long before he was banned for the second leg. He made instead for Ronaldo before being dragged away by around a small team of stewards.
A flare was then thrown from a section of Barcelona supporters up into an area holding Real fans and on the pitch came the incidents that decided the game.
Higuain had the ball in the net but Ronaldo had appeared to knock over Mascherano and so the goal was ruled out despite replays appearing to show Ronaldo had been pushed by Gerard Pique. Barça's next attack saw Iniesta slide a sublime pass through to Pedro who beat Casillas to make it 3-0 on aggregate. Madrid's first reaction was a physical one. Emanuel Adebayor who had come on after the goal picked up a yellow card and Diarra joined him in the De Bleeckere's book.
But then came a more positive response as Angel Di Maria rattled a shot on to the bar and Marcelo swooped to convert the rebound. Real were back to square one needing two goals to go through – two goals that never looked like coming.
As De Bleeckere blew the final whistle, Barcelona players celebrated reaching the final by giving Eric Abidal the bumps. He had come on at the end less than two months after an operation on a liver tumour.
It was an uplifting end to an at times sorry saga of matches. Madrid outraged again, Mourinho absent and Barcelona at Wembley.
Man of the match: Xavi.
Match rating: 5/10.
Referee: F de Bleeckere (Bel).
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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