Ave Maria: Barcelona the victor but Supercopa hangs in balance after Valdes blunder

The Blaugrana keeper's shocking error allowed Angel Di Maria to reduce the deficit to 3-2 late on at Camp Nou and give Los Blancos hope of a title which had looked out of reach
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

Everything was right apart from the scoreline. Barcelona's flowing football saw them sweep aside Real Madrid in the season's first Clasico on Thursday night. But in a moment of madness, Victor Valdes gave Jose Mourinho's men a lifeline - and it may prove extremely costly.

Playing the clown: Valdes error hands Real Madrid lifeline
There was seemingly little danger when Adriano cut out a Madrid counterattack in the 85th minute and stroked the ball back to his goalkeeper, but Valdes failed to control the pass, took too many touches and was dispossessed under pressure by Angel Di Maria, who poked home into the empty net. It was a dreadful error and what should have been 3-1 or even 4-1 at Camp Nou had now become 3-2.

Earlier, Tito Vilanova's side set out to make a statement and had hit the heights following a goalless first half which gave little or no sign of what was to follow. With the Clasico, however, fireworks are to be expected and after the interval, they duly arrived.

When the deadlock was finally broken, though, it was not Barca but Cristiano Ronaldo who managed it. Ahead of this corresponding fixture just over a year ago, the Portuguese had still not scored at Camp Nou, but he now has four in as many games at Barca's famous home after crashing a header past Valdes from a corner on Thursday. And just like his winner in the April Liga meeting at the same stadium, it had been set up by Mesut Ozil. The German has now assisted the Portuguese 19 times - more than any other player ever.

More significantly, perhaps, it was advantage Madrid. But not for long.

On their very next attack, Barca made it 1-1 as Javier Mascherano's pass from deep picked out Pedro, who got ahead of Fabio Coentrao and fired past a helpless Iker Casillas to bring the house down. The winger had been marginally offside as the ball was played through by the Argentine, but unlike in the Copa del Rey final between these two teams back in April of last year, this time the flag stayed down.

 Thursday night's Clasico
4 Cristiano Ronaldo is the only Real Madrid player to score in four consecutive Camp Nou Clasicos
7 Pedro became the first Barca player to score in a Clasico for Tito Vilanova. Samuel Eto'o was the first under Pep
14 With his penalty on Thursday, Lionel Messi equalled Cesar's record of 14 goals against Real Madrid
50 Cesc came off the bench to make his 50th official appearance for Barcelona
100 Mourinho's Madrid have now let in 100 goals in 119 games - and 25 of those have been scored by Barcelona
For a while, both sides sensed they could win it and Mourinho made two positive changes as he introduced Gonzalo Higuain and Di Maria, but it was another Argentine who struck the next blow: Lionel Messi.

The 25-year-old sent Casillas the wrong way from the penalty spot after a clumsy challenge from Sergio Ramos on Andres Iniesta and Barca were now ahead for the first time in the match. It had been something of a frustrating night for the forward up until then, with two first-half opportunities fired wide and little else in the way of a goal threat until his spot-kick. Indeed, he had appeared a shadow of the player who lit up last season's Supercopa series with three goals and two assists over both legs in the 5-4 aggregate win.

But while it may not have been vintage Messi, it was certainly vintage Iniesta. And with 12 minutes remaining, the midfielder superbly sidestepped Raul Albiol and Sami Khedira before slotting a measured ball through to Xavi for a simple finish to make it 3-1.

It could have been more in the closing minutes, too, but for a tale of two goalkeepers: Casillas intervened at one end to deny Messi with a stunning save, before Valdes' monumental mistake allowed Di Maria to level in inexplicable circumstances. Instead of 4-1, it was 3-2, and the mood was severely dampened.

The same scoreline in last season's Supercopa had been enough for Barcelona to claim the trophy after a 2-2 draw in Madrid, but this time the two teams still have to play at the Santiago Bernabeu, and a tie which should have been dead and buried now hangs very much in the balance.

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