The Spanish Clasico is always worth the wait, and today was no different. Jose Mourinho's side was thirsty for goals, and as usual, put on lots of pressure. Madrid not only had the first opportunities of the match, but seized dominance after the first twenty minutes. The guests are dangerous on set pieces, so it was surprising that Sergio Ramos's header missed the target from 6 yards out. Ronaldo made up for lost opportunities by picking up the ball from Benzema and scoring in the near post. At that point, the guests made Vilanova's players look like a terrible MLS defense, leaving Ronaldo wide open and free to do as he pleases. Madrid missed two solid attempts again after Benzema's shot hit the post, while Di Maria shot the ball wide after the rebound. In true Clasico fashion, Lionel Messi scored the equalizer after playing through the defense in a style that only he can deliver. Several defenders were right on the ball, but that didn't stop Leo from running past them to net it in. There was some commentary as to whether Pedro was offside before Messi got the ball, but with the speed of the game, it was difficult to tell. Nevertheless, it was an unlikely turn of events after Madrid's dominance. The commentators remarked that after the goal, Ronaldo and company "found themselves in a different game". They couldn't be more right - both teams soon exchanged the first yellow cards, and it was Barcelona who had the final say before the halftime whistle.
The changing course of the game went in the home team's favor as Madrid's players wore down. As if the game wasn't exciting enough, a controversial decision by the referee left Vilanova's team without a penalty. Pepe's challenge on Iniesta looked like a clear call. Replays clearly showed that there was contact with Iniesta's foot, but as per FIFA's usual ignorance, instant footage was unavailable to the ref, who chose to carry on the game. Another odd moment arrived when Leo Messi was brought down by Xabi Alonso, who was already on a yellow card from the first half. The referee awarded Barcelona the free kick, but did not book the Madrid midfielder for the challenge. The joke was on the official, however, as Messi scored his 8th goal of the season directly from the set piece. Casillas was late on the dive, powerless against the Argentine striker, who has scored over 150 league goals for Barcelona. Messi is just three goals short of legendary Madrid player Alfredo Di Stefano's record of 18 competitive goals in the Clasico. But the Argentine has a much closer rival in the form of Cristiano Ronaldo. Ozil's through-ball gave Ronaldo his own double in today's match. The Portuguese forward even attempted a hat-trick, which would have given him a record of 3 consecutive hat-tricks this season (he scored the last two in a 5-1 win over Deportivo La Coruna in La Liga and a 4-1 win over Ajax in the Champions League, respectively). Messi fired back, but couldn't get his own hat-trick in the last twenty minutes. There were no more goals from set pieces today, but Barcelona's passing looked fierce and was a stressful presence in the 18-yard box.
Madrid may be the set piece masters and may see the pitch very well, but it was Lionel Messi's free kick that gave his team the lead. Barcelona managed to take back possession right after the equalizer, making it difficult for their age-old rivals to get enough of the ball. "Barcelona's a bit like a toss of a coin," said commentator and former manager Terry Venables during halftime. But with a coin toss, there's not a clear-cut fifty-fifty spread unless the process is repeated a good number of times. The match was quite uneven, leaning heavily towards Madrid in the beginning and more towards Barcelona in the second half.
Has today's Clasico lived up to the Messi vs. Ronaldo stereotype? Maybe so - after all, Ronaldo did open the score, only to be faced with Messi's equalizer less than ten minutes later. Both players scored doubles and were moments away from hat-tricks. Arguably the best two players in the world, they defined today's Clasico more than ever as a rivalry of styles between two potentially equal forces. In a weekend teeming with lesser-known Clasicos and well-known derbies, La Liga's matchup still stands out as the most technically brilliant show on Earth.
La Liga: Week 7
Sunday, October 7, 2012, 2:00PM EST
FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid - 2:2 (1:1)
Arena: Camp Nou (Barcelona, Spain)
Referee: Carlos Delgado Ferreiro
0:1 Cristiano Ronaldo (Asst. Karim Benzema) (23')
1:1 Lionel Messi (31')
2:1 Lionel Messi (61')
2:2 Cristiano Ronaldo (Asst. Mesut Ozil) (66')
Published on Get Real Premier.