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Sunday, March 11, 2007

El Clasico, Barcelona 3-3 Real Madrid

Magical Messi Earns Heroic Draw
A sensational Lionel Messi etched his name indelibly into the El Clasico history, as he completed an injury time hat-trick on the biggest stage in Spain to hand ten men Barcelona a gutsy draw at the Camp Nou, in one of the most breath-taking of El Clasicos.
Real Madrid, meanwhile, will go home gutted, and questions will be asked as to why Capello chose to sit back rather than finish off Frank Rijkaard's tiring charges.

Barcelona looked well on their way to their first home La Liga defeat this season until Messi produced a move of individual brilliance before finding the net with his left foot. Matches between Barcelona and Real Madrid, who were both knocked out of the Champions League in midweek, are never short of entertainment but there was more than the usual ration of drama on Saturday even before Messi's final contribution.

First Half:

It was a frentic start to the game, with Thuram's failed clearance falling at Ruud van Nistelrooy's feet in the 5th minute, and the Dutchman coolly finishing past Casillas from 20 yards out to silence the camp Nou crowd.

Barcelona were stunned, but recovered their composure to launch a fierce attempt to find the equalize.

Eto'o was denied by Casillas after a good move involving Ronaldinho and Messi, but the reward came in the 11th minute, after a superb pass from Ronaldinho found a bursting Messi, and Messi beat Casillas at the far post with consummate ease. It took Real Madrid all of two minutes to go back in the lead, with Oleguer clumsily leaving a leg out for Guti to fall over and earn a penalty. Van Nistelrooy calmly converted, to make it 2-1 for Los Merengues, barely 13 minutes into the game. Oleguer picked up a booking for his efforts - one that would later come to haunt Barcelona in other ways too.

Barca again laid siege on Real Madrid's goal, threatening through Ronaldinho, Messi and Eto'o, who were combining as superbly as ever. Ronaldinho was hacked from behind by Sergio Ramos, who made no attempt to play the ball, and was promptly handed a booking, and Eto'o was set up by Ronaldinho and Messi minutes later, but failed to get enough power into the shot.

You could feel, though, that a Barcelona goal was near, and it was once again Messi who grabbed it. However, Ronaldinho and Eto'o, who had both been superb over the last 20 minutes, were the ones who did the hard work. Ronaldinho ran into the six-yard box with the help of a one-two with Eto'o, and Madrid's attempt to deny him saw the ball fall to Messi, who hammered it into the net.

Xavi then sent Messi through with a superb pass almost immediately afterwards, and the Argentine put in a superb run, only to drag his finish into the side netting. It was all Barcelona, with Miguel Torres looking like a sitting duck against a rampant Lionel Messi.

Higuain then came close against the run of play, but it was Barcelona again immediately, with Deco finding Messi, Messi sending it wide to Ronaldinho, the Brazilian crossing superbly, but Salgado scrambling it clear inches ahead of Eto'o.

Eto'o then got past two defenders, but took one touch too many in the box, and was quickly crowded out just as he got ready to pull the trigger. Iniesta got in on the act, forcing another superb save from Casillas after another fabulous move from Barcelona.

However, tragedy struck for the Catalans on the stroke of half time, with Oleguer being sent off for a second yellow after bringing down Gago. That threatened to spoil the game though, With Diarra being booked for a shove on Messi, and and then Xavi also going into the book, as the referee seemed to be losing control of the game.

Thankfully, that was the final action of the half, allowing everyone to calm down. Four goals, one red card, and you could sense there could be more of both before the final whistle.

Second Half:

With Barca coach Frank Rijkaard having ambitiously opted to play a 3-4-3 formation from the outset, he was forced to shore up his defence at half time with Eto'o being replaced by the Brazilian defender Sylvinho.

Barcelona managed to slow the game down but inevitably they were going to leave gaps at the back.

Van Nistelrooy nearly got his third goal after 64 minutes when he was set free by Higuain but was thwarted by Valdes, who got an outstretched hand to the ball, but instead Sergio Ramos put them back in front.

The Spanish international defender got to a Guti free-kick but the ball spun backwards off his head and Ramos' expression clearly showed that it was a fluke.

In addition to Oleguer's dismissal nine other players were booked including Real's Malian midfielder Mahamadou Diarra, who misses next Sunday's game at home to Gimnastic Tarragona.

Real's fighting performance will probably be enough for their under-fire coach Fabio Capello to keep his job, at least for the moment.

After Real's midweek exit from Europe, the Spanish media had been speculating that only a win would save his neck but a draw under these circumstances will probably suffice despite them staying in fourth place.

The result temporarily returns Barca to the top of the Spanish first division but they will slip back to second if Sevilla get a point or more at relegation-threatened Gimnastic Tarragona on Sunday.

El Classico Barcelona 3-3 Real Madrid full highlights and goals: