Ronaldinho runs rings round Real's old stagers

Barcelona 3 - Real Madrid 0
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The Independent Football

Just in case anyone was still unaware of the fact, Barcelona made it abundantly clear at the Nou Camp on Saturday that five years after being deposed from the throne they have finally reclaimed their position as the supreme power in Spanish football. Barcelona's dynamic and exciting young side exposed Madrid's ageing aristocrats with an irresistible exhibition in front of 98,000 devoted fans.

Just in case anyone was still unaware of the fact, Barcelona made it abundantly clear at the Nou Camp on Saturday that five years after being deposed from the throne they have finally reclaimed their position as the supreme power in Spanish football. Barcelona's dynamic and exciting young side exposed Madrid's ageing aristocrats with an irresistible exhibition in front of 98,000 devoted fans.

"They were the better side," Real's David Beckham admitted yesterday. "They are playing well and have got some of the best players in the world, but the league is not over and we'll have to wait until the end of the season to say who is the best team." However, the Catalans are now seven points clear of their arch-rivals at the top of the table and the gulf in class is even greater.

With the brilliant Ronaldinho orchestrating the midfield and the electric Samuel Eto'o in attack, Barca took less than half an hour to break their opponents' resistance as they poured forward and heaped the pressure on an over-stressed Real defence.

Real tried to crowd the midfield and play on the break, but it was a matter of time until they caved in. Zinedine Zidane was dripping sweat after 10 minutes, Roberto Carlos was left breathless by Juliano Belletti and Beckham was overwhelmed in the middle.

Ronaldinho, the Portugal midfielder Deco and the Dutch wing-back Giovanni van Bronckhorst stretched Real's defence with a succession of slick one-touch passes in the opening quarter, while Eto'o tormented his former teammates around the box. The incessant Barcelona pressure eventually took its toll when a defensive mix-up between Iker Casillas and Roberto Carlos let the quick-thinking Eto'o in to score the opener on 28 minutes.

Ronaldinho swept a curling pass towards the edge of the area, Roberto Carlos hesitated for a moment as he waited for Casillas to pick up and Eto'o darted between them before running the ball into the open net to score his 10th goal of the season.

Barcelona stepped up the pace still further just before half-time and doubled their lead just before the break after Ronaldinho and Deco dissected the Real area with two sharp passes, leaving van Bronckhorst to finish off at the near post.

Real's response was limited to some symbolic jinking runs by the former Barcelona player Luis Figo, a contribution greeted with predictable disdain by the Nou Camp faithful who have never forgiven their former idol for betraying the cause.

Real's coach, Mariano Garcia Remon, tried to shake things up by replacing Beckham, who looks out of place in the centre of midfield, with Michael Owen, who at least threatenedBarca's goal with a glancing header, but it was indicative of Real's performance that they did not have one shot on target. In the end it was all too one-sided. The exuberant Ronaldinho laughed and smiled his way round the pitch as he showcased his repertoire of party-trick skills, Eto'o continued to torment his former team-mates with his pace and Deco gave a wonderful exhibition of unselfish team play in midfield.

The only sour note for Barca, was the knee injury picked up by their striker Henrik Larsson, which will require surgery and rule him out for six weeks.

Ronaldinho, who must be favourite to scoop next month's European Footballer of the Year award, completed his masterclass when he smashed home a penalty 15 minutes from time after Eto'o had been tripped by a desperate Guti as he scorched into the area after pouncing on Zidane's loose pass.

Goals: Eto'o (28) 1-0; van Bronckhorst (43) 2-0; Ronaldinho (75, pen) 3-0.

Barcelona: (4-3-2-1) Valdes; Belletti (Damia, 71), Puyol, Oleguer, van Bronckhorst; Xavi (Silvinho, 86), Marquez, Deco; Eto'o, Ronaldinho; Larsson (Iniesta, 70).

Real Madrid: (4-4-2) Casillas; Salgado, Samuel, Pavon, Roberto Carlos; Figo, Beckham (Owen, 54), Guti, Zidane (Celades, 86); Raul (Solari, 83), Ronaldo.

Attendance: 98,000.

Referee: A Undiano Mallenco

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