Messi Barcelona hat-trick wins 'Clasico' thriller at Real Madrid
Penalties, goals, conspiracy theories and even 'weddings and funerals' at the Bernabeu
THE biggest event in the Spanish football calendar lived up to its billing on Sunday night as Barcelona and Real Madrid produced a thrilling 'Clasico' encounter, featuring a hat-trick from Lionel Messi, as Barca emerged 4-3 winners at the Bernabeu, home of their bitter rivals, to re-ignite the Spanish title race.
The drama did not end with the final whistle, as Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo hinted at a conspiracy after Barcelona were awarded two dubious penalties and Madrid defender Sergio Ramos was sent off for the 15th time in his career.
Barcelona took an early lead through Andres Iniesta before two goals in five minutes from Karim Benzema put Madrid in front. However, Messi equalised just before half time, only for Ronaldo to convert the first of three penalties awarded in the match and make it 3-2 after 55 minutes. Then came the red card for Ramos and another equaliser for Messi, this time from the penalty spot. Iniesta then won another penalty in the 84th minute which Messi scored to win the game for Barca.
Once again the two biggest teams in Spain delivered a classic Clasico, gushes Rory Smith in The Times. "It never ceases to take the breath away. Four, five, six times a year, the world watches El Clasico. Four, five, six times a year, the world stands amazed."
The drama and histrionics on and off the pitch add to the spectacle, he says, but the "quality" of play is what makes the game different. "This is football in its highest form... This is football as art."
It was also a statement of intent from Barcelona, who appeared to be out of the title race in Spain and had been written off by some as a spent force. However, the win leaves them just one point behind the two Madrid teams, Real and Atletico, at the top of the table with nine games left to play.
"It was supposed to be the game that marked the end of empire, that confirmed the shift in power," says Smith. "This was Real's chance to storm the towers, kill their eternal enemy off, to bring the curtain down on tiki-taka."
However, Messi had other ideas. The Argentine "who lost his World Player of the Year crown to Ronaldo earlier this year, took sweet revenge on Sunday by upstaging the Portuguese forward", says The Guardian.
Not only was his hat-trick the first by a Barcelona player at the Bernabeu it also puts him top of the list of Clasico scorers, with 21 goals. three more than Alfredo Di Stefano. He also went second in the list of all time scorers in the Spanish league.
It was "a thousand matches in one", according to Spanish paper AS. "This Clasico encompassed several life-times, from glorious triumphs to the depths of despair, from weddings to funerals."