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Barcelona 1-0 Real Madrid: Ibrahimovic Wins El Clasico For Barca

Barcelona 1-0 Real Madrid - Line-Up/Stats
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After a deadlock in the first half, substitute Zlatan Ibahimovic became Barcelona's newest darling when he scored the only goal of the game in the 159th edition of El Clasico to bag three points to the Catalans.

Injuries and fitness issues had deprived to threaten the world’s Clasico of the biggest duel in football after reports emerged in the morning of matchday that neither Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo would start the game.

But the legions of fans and the global media were relieved to see both players in the starting XI, although the two other big guns, Ibrahimovic and Karim Benzema only started on the bench.

Barca wasted little time charging forward as Messi and Dani Alves looked to exploit Madrid’s weak left-back spot immediately, but the Brazilian wasted two early crosses as he uncharacteristically over-hit them.

Kaka launched the visitors’ first attack after four minutes when he lofted a through ball into the box but Gonzalo Higuain just couldn’t control, leaving Victor Valdes to gather easily.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s first meaningful contribution was to carve up an opening on six minutes when he easily breezed past Carles Puyol down the left flank and dinked a low cross to Marcelo, who miscued his half volley and sent it well into the stands.

Minutes later, Messi danced past three players and slipped in Thierry Henry into the area down the left channel, but his tame shot was saved comfortably by Iker Casillas. Alves then sent yet another cross into empty space before Xavi pummelled in a 20 yard drive which sailed over the bar.

Ronaldo had a shooting opportunity of his own on 11 minutes as he stood over the ball for a freekick from nearly 30 yards out while deafening whistles rained down from the Camp Nou stands on 11 minutes when Ronaldo stood over the ball for a freekick from nearly 30 yards out, but his blistering effort crashed into Sergio Busquets in the wall, much to the delight of the Catalan faithful.

The best chance of the game came on 20 minutes. Kaka careened down the left, cut into the middle and squared the ball to Ronaldo, but his low drive was kick-saved by Valdes, leaving the Portuguese in disbelief. Barca’s normally flawless passing game collapsed a minute later when they lost the ball in their own half and Ronaldo’s deft backheel released Kaka, but Valdes dashed off his line to thump it clear.

The Blaugrana backline was sliced opened again on 25 minutes when Kaka teed-up an unmarked Marcelo, but Puyol lunged forward and blocked off the Brazilian’s shot.

Casillas was finally called to make his first big save of the game on 36 minutes when he tipped over Henry’s cheeky angled cross at the byline which was heading for the back of the net. The Madrid shot-stopper then dived low to save Iniesta’s left-foot drive as Barcelona looked to end the half the stronger, but both sides marched back into the dressing room even-stevens, although Los Blancos appeared the happier of the two sides with the way the contest was unfolding.

All the game needed was a goal to light the spark and Pep Guardiola decided to introduce the first of the two missing big guns as Zlatan Ibrahimovic replaced a quiet Henry after 50 minutes. And the Catalans immediately upped the tempo.

But it was again Madrid who looked the more likely to score. Barca failed to make the most of a corner and Sergio Ramos led the counterattack as he played in Higuain, who checked past one defender inside the box but Puyol again came to the rescue with a brilliant tackle just as the Argentine was about to pull the trigger.

The capital giants would pay for their profligacy as Barcelona surged infront on 55 minutes. Dani Alves drilled in an inch-perfect cross to Ibrahimovic, who stayed onside before he rifled in a masterful cushioned volley past Casillas at the back post.

But the Blaugrana were stunned on the hour mark when Busquets’ clumsy handball earned him a second yellow card and Guardiola suddenly found himself a man short. Ronaldo had another chance on 65 minutes but he thumped Marcelo’s cross over. That was his last contribution as Manuel Pellegrini made his first change, sending in Karim Benzema for ‘CR9’.

Gerard Pique almost killed off the contest in the 70th minute but hammered his header from a freekick agonisingly wide. Straight to the other end, Kaka danced his way past Alves at the byline and cut it back to Benzema, but Puyol, for the umpteenth time, made a pivotal interception to block the French striker’s close-range attempt.

Eric Abidal was next to queue up to become the hero for Barcelona when he latched onto Xavi’s through ball but pulled his shot marginally wide of Casillas’ left post. Over at the other side, Benzema almost became Madrid’s saviour when Xabi Alonso’s corner bobbled into this path, but the former Lyon man ballooned his shot from five yards out.

With two minutes left on the clock, Messi thought he had the icing on the cake. He ran onto Dani Alves’ squared ball but he was denied brilliantly by Casillas in a one-on-one. But it would be game over a minute later when Madrid’s midfield talisman, Lassana Diarra was dismissed.

It wasn't the goal rush fans around the world were expecting, as Barcelona did just enough to fight off a valiant Madrid in a fascinating encounter nonetheless.

KS Leong, Goal.com