Cristiano Ronaldo was the difference between Spain’s two domestic football giants in an El Clasico clash that promised so much… and delivered very little, despite the glittering array of footballing genius on the park.
Real Madrid deserved their 1-0 win, courtesy of a Ronaldo goal in the 12th minute… but it was far from a convincing result. Barcelona dominated across the park in every department – except where it mattered most; on the scoreboard.
For Barcelona the match will be remembered with disbelieving head shakes as a case of ‘what if’.
The match began with plenty of mouth-watering promise, played in front of a capacity crowd, and the fierce exchanges in the opening minutes were fairly even. Then, in the 12th minute, Gareth Bale latched onto a turnover in possession and broke through the midfield. Ahead of the Welsh star waited Ronaldo who found an inch of space on the edge of Barcelona’s penalty box. He received the ball at his feet, turned and beat a tackle, then shrugged off a second challenger. As the space in front of goal shrank, Ronaldo threaded a shot from 12 yards into the top right corner of the net. The Barcelona keeper had no chance.
Love him or hate him, he cannot be ignored! Ronaldo turns and fends off tacklers to score the match-winning goal in the 12th minute.
If there was a consolation for Barcelona, it was that the goal came early in the match. There was plenty of time to restore parity, and inspired by Messi, Suarez and Iniesta, Barca set about peppering the Real Madrid goal with threatening raids and a barrage of shots.
In the 21st minute, Barcelona had their best chance when Messi found himself one-on-one with the Real Madrid keeper after Busquets played a brilliant through ball, dissecting the defense with surgical precision. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, Messi could be expected to score.
But not tonight.
Instead his shot was saved by the keeper, who deflected the ball and then pounced to recover safely. Messi looked stunned. It was an ominous premonition of what was to follow.
Then in the 32nd minute is was Suarez, tormenting the Real Madrid defenders and using his body and speed to break through a feeble challenge on the right. The striker’s finesse left a gaping hole in the Real Madrid defense. But when Suarez drove for the byline and sliced the ball across the face of goal… Messi’s strike went harmlessly wide.
Suarez on the ball was mesmerizing. Throughout the match the enigmatic Barcelona striker was a constant threat to Real Madrid’s defense.
The match began to open up, flowing from one end to the other, and in the flurry of minutes prior to half-time, both teams had chances. Real Madrid had the last goal-scoring opportunity of the first half when Ronaldo was brought down in a professional challenge in the 43rd minute. From long range his subsequent shot on goal floated harmlessly over the Barcelona defensive wall.
At half time the 1-0 lead to Real Madrid seemed illusory. Given an ounce of luck, the score could have been 3-3.
The second half seemed to promise a torrent of goals and thrilling action.
But it never happened.
Instead the match degenerated into a scramble of untidy possession and hard tackling. Neither team could gain ascendency, and Barcelona missed three more opportunities to level the scores through poor passing and inept shooting.
When the referee blew the whistle for full time the Real Madrid supporters sighed their relief. Messi and the thousands of frustrated Barcelona fans could only shake their heads in bewilderment.
‘We created chances. We played well,’ a disappointed Barcelona manager told the waiting media in the post match press conference. ‘Tonight those chances did not bring goals. Sometimes this happens. It’s not pleasant… but we must accept this.’
Messi on the ball, taunting the Real Madrid defense. It wasn’t the little maestro’s night; several of his shots went wide of goal or were easily saved.