Real Madrid 1-2 Barcelona: Puyol and Abidal complete impressive second-half comeback for Pep Guardiola's side after Ronaldo's early opener
Two goals from unlikely sources give the Catalans a vital advantage going into the second leg of the Copa del Rey, despite going behind to the Portuguese's early effort
By Martin Macdonald
Second-half goals from Carles Puyol and Eric Abidal cancelled out an early Cristiano Ronaldo strike to help Barcelona overcome Real Madrid with a 2-1 victory in the Copa del Rey Clasico on Wednesday evening at Santiago Bernabeu.
Madrid started the match the stronger and collected the advantage through the Portuguese, but Puyol's flying header and Abidal's neat finish completed a superb turnaround, and make Pep Guardiola's side favourites to progress to the last semi-finals of the competition.
Ronaldo looked desperate to shake the criticism he has received from sections of his own support in recent weeks, and he made two superb tackles in the opening exchanges, before firing his side ahead in the 11th minute.
Karim Benzema found a pocket of space inside the centre circle and slipped a perfectly weighted pass to the attacker down the left channel. Ronaldo then nicked the ball past Gerard Pique, utilising a neat step-over, before lashing a left-footed strike through the legs of Jose Pinto, with some question marks over the Barcelona stopper's positioning.
The veteran goalkeeper, only playing because of an agreement with Guardiola to feature in the Copa del Rey, should have blocked the effort, but Ronaldo and Madrid celebrated furiously as the Bernabeu erupted.
The Catalans bounced back, and came within inches of equalising just five minutes later when Cesc Fabregas clipped a delicate pass into the Madrid box, where Alexis Sanchez found space between Sergio Ramos and Fabio Coentrao to loop a header towards goal only to see his attempt strike the inside of the post.
The first half was a fiery affair, and the high tempo of the play resulted in some late tackles. Pepe was at the heart of the drama, firstly earning a booking for an ill-timed challenge on Busquets, and then going down after a supposed wayward elbow from Pique, which earned the Barca defender a yellow card.
Despite going into the break a goal down, Barcelona had the best of the first half. Andres Iniesta squandered a decent chance inside the box with a left-footed strike that flashed wide, after Lionel Messi saw a near-post shot excellently saved by Iker Casillas.
Madrid's gameplan had allowed them to lead at the interval, but it took Guardiola's side just three minutes to draw level through a superb header from Puyol.
Xavi's corner kick was dropped deep into the box and the Barca captain came flying in to power home an unstoppable diving header to make it 1-1, leaving Pepe in his wake.
Both sides were unlucky not to take the lead in the next 10 minutes, with Andres Iniesta and Karim Benzema both striking the woodwork. The Barcelona maestro fired off the crossbar with a deflected half-volley that Sergio Ramos did superbly to block. Benzema, meanwhile, clipped the outside of the left post with a glancing header that looked to have Pinto beaten had it been on target.
Barcelona continued to dominate possession as the game progressed, and their patient passing paid off in the 76th minute when Abidal scored his second-ever goal for the Catalans, with Lionel Messi the architect.
The Argentine, who had been strangely subdued for much of the contest, clipped a sensational pass over the top of the home defence to the Frenchman, who coolly took the ball down on his chest before stabbing past Casillas.
Madrid, similarly to the league match in December, had no response to Barca's comeback, and were unable to create a clear opening in the closing stages. Indeed, the match became more heated, and Carvalho, already on a booking, was fortunate not to see red for a late lunge on Alexis.
Near the end Pepe, who had been booked early on for a late challenge on Sergio Busquets, managed to stamp on the hand of Messi as the Argentine was getting to his feet after a late challenge, and may face further disciplinary action.
This result leaves Barcelona going into the return match with the advantage over Jose Mourinho's side. The second leg takes place next Wednesday at Camp Nou.
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