Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo: a class apart in el Clasico
Barcelona 2 Real Madrid 2: The superstars of the Spanish game live up to their billing, scoring two goals each as Barcelona are held by Madrid at the Nou Camp
Let's face it, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have been in a state of independence for a long time now: independent from their peers; existing outside the laws of football and occasionally of physics too.
The Clasico build-up had been driven by the political distance between Catalonia and Spain. Then the Argentine and the Portuguese took over and everyone went back to wondering if any sort of distance can really be put between them.
Ronaldo scored with his first shot. He added a second in the half second to equalize for Real Madrid. Jose Mourinho was asked after the game if he felt his performance had been enough to earn him the Balon D'Or at the end of the year.
"I don't know if he's done enough," he said exasperated. "All I know is that saying who is the best in the world at the moment should be banned, because these two are just so good. They are both from a different planet."
Messi also scored with his first shot and then beat Iker Casillas with a free-kick in the second half to move to within just one goal of Alfredo Di Stefano's record 18 goals scored in this fixture.
Di Stefano was 35 when he stopped playing – who knows how far ahead of him Messi will be if we are graced with his presence for another 10 years.
Such was the emotional outpouring when his set-piece put Barcelona ahead the home supporters almost forget their second half protest for independence. It came, finally, at a little later than the 17 minutes 14 seconds that mark the last time they had law-making autonomy free from Spain. When it arrived it was louder but that had far more to do with the boy from Rosario than an increase in political fervor.
The lines across the football landscape are being redrawn by two men who seem to known no frontiers. You might prefer the bravado of Ronaldo; you might prefer the unassuming Messi, but football wins every time either man takes to the pitch.
Messi has now scored 154 goals at the Nou Camp in 164 games; Ronaldo has needed just 16 games to score 10 goals against Barcelona. Ronaldo has 14 goals this season and Messi 12. The record books stay open because they are being rewritten every week.
Ronaldo's first goal came not from a smash and grab made in Madrid but at the end of a finely worked move more befitting Barcelona's style. Karim Benzema played the pass to Ronaldo after Xabi Alonso, Mesut Ozil, Marcelo and Sami Khedira had all exchanged passes. Ronaldo was allowed too much space by Alves and he beat Victor Valdes at his near post with a drilled low finish.
He had become the first player ever to score in six consecutive Clasicos. He had also become only the second player to score away from home in a Clasico in five straight away matches, but the only other player to have achieved that feat soon made it 1-1.
Messi lurked on the edge of the six yard box and when Iniesta played the ball out to Pedro and his cross cannoned off Alonso it was not cleared by Pepe and the Argentine pounced.
Alves had been found wanting for Ronaldo's goal and he was replaced by Montoya midway through the first half. Alves has since been ruled out for three weeks with a thigh injury.
Pedro was late on Sergio Ramos and despite protests was cautioned. Alonso joined him in the book for a foul on Xavi and Ozil then clattered into Messi but familiarity between these too has bred grudging respect as witnessed by the embraces in the tunnel before the game and the poison of some of last year's pitch battles never looked like returning although Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova said after the game that a "video should be made of Pepe's tackles".
Barcelona started the stronger in the second half with Pepe poking the ball away from Andres Iniesta. The midfielder tumbled over inside the area but the appeals for a penalty were correctly waved away by the referee.
The outstanding Sergio Busquets was shown a yellow card for clipping the heels of Ronaldo and the Portuguese hit his free-kick into the wall. On 15 minutes of the second period Messi went one better from a similar distance and Barcelona were 2-1 up.
Such was the commotion from the second goal that the supporters almost forget their second-half protest. Arriving slightly later than the 17th minute of the second half the chant of "independencia" was heard once more.
Ronaldo tried and failed with a bicycle kick at the other end as Real Madrid pushed for the equaliser. It looked as if the only man capable of outdoing him was going to do just that, but running on to an Ozil pass he drew Valdes and slotted in the visitors' second.
There was now panic at the back for Barcelona with Ronaldo looking for his hat-trick. But with Messi needing just one for his treble – a goal that would draw him level with Di Stefano's record haul of 18 in this fixture – the danger came at both ends.
Gonzalo Higuain, who had replaced Benzema, had a shot saved by Valdes at the keeper's near post and as quickly as Barcelona raced away Real Madrid came right back at them. It was too much for the referee who turned too quickly in the centre circle at one point and went to ground.
Montoya hit the bar and Pedro's shot cannoned off Alexis as Barcelona pushed harder at the death but the game's fifth goal never came. Mourinho kept up an incredible record of not having lost in October in eight years. What he really needed though was a win and the gap at the top remains eight points.
The gap between the best two players in the world remains negligible. "They are both incredible," said Vilanova. "Perhaps Ronaldo would have received slightly more recognition if he were not playing at the same time as Messi."
Barcelona: Valdes, Alves, Mascherano, Adriano, Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi, Fabregas
Real Madrid: Cassilas, Marcelo, Ramos, Pepe, Arbeloa, C Ronaldo, Alonso, Khedira, Di Maria, Ozil, Benzema
Scorers. Barcelona: Messi 31, 61. Real Madrid: Ronaldo 23, 66
Subs: Barcelona Montoya (Alves, 28), Sanchez (Fabregas, 64). Real Madrid Higuain (Benzema, 62), Kaka (Ozil, 80), Essien (di Maria, 88). Booked: Barca Pedro, Busquets. Real Alonso, Ozil, Pepe, Arbeloa. Possession: Barca 69%. Real 31%. Attempts on target: Barca 3. Real 4. Referee Carlos Delgado Ferreiro. Attendance 95,000.
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