Champions League - Super Messi stuns Real

Wed, 27 Apr 21:41:00 2011

Lionel Messi swooped twice to give Barcelona a 2-0 win in a bad-tempered first leg of their Champions League semi-final against 10-man Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.

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The World Player of the Year guided the ball home at the near post with 14 minutes remaining to break the deadlock before he reverted back to type from his goal-poaching cameo for the second on 87 minutes, a wonderful individual effort that saw him dance through the Madrid defence and finish past Iker Casillas.

The Argentine's match-winning brace - his 16th and 17th goals in his last 16 appearances in the competition - gives his side a clear advantage heading into the second leg at the Camp Nou next week.

Madrid will be missing midfielder Pepe for that game after the Portuguese received his marching orders for a studs-up challenge on Dani Alves after just over an hour of play.

Barca also had a man sent off, substitute goalkeeper Jose Pinto, following an unsavoury scuffle as the teams headed down the tunnel at half-time, while Madrid coach Jose Mourinho was sent to the stands for his sarcastic protestations in the aftermath of Pepe's dismissal.

That a game billed as a meeting of two of Europe's most exciting sides soon descended into an ugly pitch battle was regrettable but, given the frequency with which the two teams have met over the past week, hardly surprising.

Victory for Barca was their first in this four-match mini-series of Clasicos, going some way to avenge Real's win in the Copa del Rey final after the first meeting ended in a draw in La Liga.

With Ricardo Carvalho suspended, Raul Albiol came in at the back for Real and the defensively-minded Pepe was employed as a holding midfielder just in front of the back four.

Madrid's aim was clear from the outset: stop Barca playing. And Mourinho's tactics worked well enough during a tense, cagey opening 45 minutes that was far from easy on the eye.

Pepe, Lassana Diarra, in for Sami Khedira, and Xabi Alonso did a good job of stifling the creative instincts of the visitors and given their reluctance to get forward and support Mesut Ozil, Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo, they barely troubled the Barca back line.

Just once was Victor Valdes called into action during the opening period, the keeper doing well to beat away Ronaldo's swerving drive from 25 yards as the half-time whistle approached.

At the other end, and despite Barca's far superior possession, goalscoring chances were also at a premium as their celebrated attack force - missing the injured Andres Iniesta's vision - was largely frustrated.

David Villa, fresh from breaking his scoring drought at the weekend, cut inside and flashed a shot wide of the upright on 10 minutes before Messi managed to unlock the defence with a superb pass through for Xavi on 24. The World Cup winner brought his international team-mate Casillas into his first action of the night with a sharp shot that required an equally smart save.

But otherwise, the first half was far from a classic 45 minutes of football.

Given the pattern of play during the opening period and the bad blood between the two sides, frustrations boiled over as the players headed down the tunnel at half-time. The melee, which saw Pinto square up to a member of Madrid's staff, ended with him being sent off and a crotchety, niggly second half ensued.

Pepe also saw red on 61 minutes although, despite the clear feelings of the Barca players who surrounded referee Wolfgang Stark, his challenge on Alves was probably more worthy of a booking than a straight red card.

Mourinho was as incensed at the decision as the home crowd, and his mocking of the fourth official ended with him being sent to the stands, where he sulked for the remainder of the game.

A man down, and the writing seemed to be on the wall for Real, although they nearly hit back with a Ronaldo header that flew over the bar soon after.

That proved as much as they could muster, as Villa stung the fingers of Casillas and Pedro headed wide from the rebound to signal Barca's intentions to grab a crucial away goal.

It came soon after, Messi adopting the unfamiliar guise of poacher to turn substitute Ibrahim Afellay's cross in at the near post on 76 minutes.

And a second duly arrived with three minutes remaining as Messi gave a stark reminder of his immense talent, gliding through the ragged Madrid back line before slotting past Casillas to furnish the game with at least a brief touch of class and send his side a step closer to a third final in five years.

Mike Hytner / Eurosport

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