Last night’s victory for Barcelona in the Bernebeu could not have been sweeter. After the war of words between the coaches prior to the game the Catalan giants went out and proved a significant point. They have surely now overcome their bitter rivals with the return leg at the Camp Nou still to come.
The game began very similarly to the previous two; Madrid very organised and defensive with Barcelona dominating possession. The objective from Madrid was clearly not to concede early and hope to strike on the counter attack later in the game. The level of skill and technique from both sides was outstanding, although the game was scrappier on occasions than some might have hoped.
Unfortunately there was a rather unpleasant undertone to the game that continued to affect the football. Both sets of players seemed intent on getting their opposing players cautioned or sent off. Finally, in the 62 minute the game boiled over and Pepe was dismissed for a bad tackle on Dani Alves. Whilst it was not the most malicious tackle you will ever see his foot was raised and caught the Brazilian. The referee was surrounded by Barcelona shirts and produced the red card shortly afterwards.
The sending off has been debated long and hard already but I feel he was correct to send Pepe off. The previous two games have been fiery and the Portuguese midfielder had been lucky to complete 90 minutes in the Cup final last week. Next though we had the reaction of Mourinho which resulted in him being sent to the stands. It was a shameful end for the manager whose pre and post-match comments have been simply ridiculous; I hope UEFA punish him to the full extent of their powers.
With Madrid down to 10 men the gaps began to appear and Xavi, now playing with more freedom began to dictate the play. In the 70th minute Barcelona took the lead after a fantastic cross from Afellay for Messi to pass the ball through Casillas’ legs and into the net. The Blaugranes in the Bernebeu erupted and the noise was deafening. The reaction from Pep Guardiola was magnificent and he would have been delighted that his young starlet scored the goal.
Ten minutes later Messi produced one of the finest individual goals ever witnessed in a game of this magnitude. He picked the ball up 35 yards out and just ran at the Madrid defence. Now down to 10 men the gaps between the midfield and defence were too large and Barcelona are just too good if you let them have time and space. He moved, or rather glided through three or four white shirts before finishing with his right foot. It was simply outstanding. Once again, the reaction from the Barcelona players, staff and supporters was incredible. The tie was over.
The game will hopefully be remembered for Messi’s brilliance but has been rather overshadowed by Mourinho’s appalling behaviour. I am a huge fan of the Portuguese manager and think he is an unbelievably talented man. However, his baiting of Guardiola, his constant moaning about officials and his general demeanour last night was shocking and something you just don’t want to see.
My congratulations to everyone associated with Barcelona and I am very much hoping they add a 4th European Cup on 28th May.