Gareth Bale denies 10-man Barca 'Real' victory
Barcelona: Barcelona fans wanted more and could have got it but rarely has a draw felt so good to this grand stadium. Their side are three games from becoming the first Spanish club to complete an unbeaten campaign in 86 years after they resisted Real Madrid with 10 men for 45 minutes.
They have been close to defeat earlier this season but perhaps not as close as this and no loss could have hurt more. Twice Barcelona led, twice Madrid equalised and still had time to win it, yet Barcelona might even have won it too. At the end of an exhilarating night El Clásico finished 2-2 with the Camp Nou celebrating, confetti in the air and exhausted players parading around the pitch.
A game that was meant to be decaffeinated, Barcelona champions and Copa del Rey winners already and Real preparing for the Champions League final, was instead among the most tense, controversial and enjoyable in recent memory. There were four goals, from Luis Suárez, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Gareth Bale. There were also eight yellow cards, one red card, countless confrontations and tension all the way to the moment Barça's Nélson Semedo dived to head away, with the clock beyond 95 minutes. "Anyone who likes football enjoyed that," Zinedine Zidane said. "If we had VAR, we'd still be out there," Ernesto Valverde joked.
Barcelona went ahead early. Luis Suárez turned the ball first time into the run of Sergi Roberto who dashed into space and delivered the perfect cross to Suárez, steaming in, who guided a volley past Keylor Navas. Only 10 minutes had gone and Suárez tumbled under the challenge of Navas soon after but it was Real who then took control. Toni Kroos combined with Ronaldo and clipped to Karim Benzema who nodded it back and the Portuguese forced it over the line.
More was to come. Ronaldo headed over, was blocked by Marc-André ter Stegen and struck just beyond the far post, all in three minutes. At the other end Messi provided two deliveries for Jordi Alba and Samuel Umtiti to strike over but Barcelona were uncomfortable. Ronaldo headed on to the roof of the net and Benzema bent a shot wide. The tension rose. Alba and Luca Modric squared up, as did Suárez and Sergio Ramos, and Messi was booked for fouling Real's captain. Bale escaped the same fate for a bad challenge on Alba. And just before half-time Roberto was sent off for lashing out at Marcelo.
Barcelona's task appeared to be just to hang on but instead they took the lead and Zidane suggested, not unreasonably, that his team had been better against 11 than 10. Marco Asensio, on for Ronaldo who twisted his ankle, could not find the finish and a minute later Suárez scrambled away from Raphaël Varane, tripping him as he passed, and found Messi.
He escaped Ramos and Casemiro and curled in a precision finish. Suárez thought he had made it three just after but the flag was up, before Paulinho almost scored. Later, Navas saved as Suárez sent Messi racing through.
That might have been it but there was life in this yet, Bale bending in a superb finish to Asensio's pass. With 15 minutes remaining, Marcelo went flying in the Barcelona area. The referee said no penalty but the hosts still had to suffer. Modric hit over before Messi responded by hitting a lovely shot just wide and drawing a save from Navas. Now they had to resist, their grip slipping with each second, but ultimately they held on.