Santiago Bernabeu was packed with Real Madrid fans in Spain’s capital city on Saturday. All of them got their money’s worth, when their heroes scored an emphatic 3-1 victory over arch-rivals Barcelona in season’s first El Classico. Barcelona had made an unbeaten start to the new La Liga season but Real Madrid effectively ended that run in a match that had the world’s best-known footballers gracing the big occasion. If you had Cristiano Ronaldo magic on the home side, there was the mercurial Lionel Messi playing for Barca. But for a change, neither Ronaldo nor Messi counted in the match because there were other stars like Neymar, Luis Suarez, Karim Benzema, James Rodriguez, Sergio Ramos, Andres Iniesta, Pepe, Pedro, Marcelo, Alves, Isco and many others, playing either for Real or Barca. One omission was Gareth Bale, who could not become fit for the game in time. These stars made the encounter as the world’s most richly-decorated game even if football history’s highest paid star remained absent. Taken together, the two sides had world’s 10 top-notch footballers on the field. The home team’s arrival at Bernabeu was welcomed by thousands of Real Madrid fans outside the stadium, a scene unimaginable elsewhere in the football universe. Despite the 3-1 result in favor of the home side, the game was fought with the characteristic fervor. Suarez played his first competitive game for Barcelona after serving out the four-month ban slapped on him in the Brazil World Cup for biting Italian Giorgio Chiellini but the Uruguayan was powerless to hold the rampaging Real Madrid. The former Liverpool star was signed by Barcelona this summer for €82.5 million($105 million) and he showed his class in sending a curling cross from right to Neymar, who used the opportunity and opened the scoring for Barca. However, Barcelona’s promising maneuvers at the start couldn’t be consolidated as Real came back to take the game away from the visitors in the second half.
Coming back from the infamous biting ban, Luis Suarez showed his teeth in a different way. In a dream restart, Suarez curled one beautiful floating cross to Neymar on the left flank in the fourth minute, which the Brazilian star collected. Naymar then surged past Dani Carvajal and Pepe before finding the bottom right corner to silence thousands present at Bernabeu. Barca could have made it 2-0 if Messi had more conviction in his shot in the 23rd minute from another inviting cross from Suarez. But the Argentinian played straight into the hands of the Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas. The goal would also have allowed Messi to reach a career milestone of equaling Telmo Zarra’s long-standing La Liga record of 251 goals. But the first goal and miss from Messi ended the initial sparks from Barca as Real Madrid came back menacingly into the match. Real equalized from a penalty from Cristiano Ronaldo that drew the score level at 1-1 just before halftime. Pique had blocked Marcelo’s low cross with his arm and the award of the spot-kick was a straightforward decision for the referee. Ronaldo didn’t falter as he sent the Barca goalkeeper the wrong way. Ronaldo also continued to maintain the record of scoring in every league game this season. For Barca, it was the first goal conceded in this season’s league games but more were about to come.
The teams took the breather at 1-1 but when they came back, Real Madrid’s momentum continued. They scored the second goal, when Pepe headed home from a corner in the 50th minute to make his team lead 2-1. But Bernabeu erupted with joy, when Karim Benzema scored from a 61st-minute counterattack. It all began with a corner kick from Barcelona, which an opportunistic Isco latched on. He beat Andres Iniesta and ensured that the ball was kept by Real’s forwards. Finally the ball came to Benzema, who brought the brilliant finish to the counter-attack. It was a goal that showed Real’s penchant for scoring and their exemplary counterattacking abilities. It was a treat for Real’s fans to watch Isco steal the ball from Iniesta and Mascherano and slip it to Ronaldo. The Portuguese superstar squared the ball to the highly talented James Rodriguez and when the Colombian found the ever eager Benzema, he knew the Frenchman would bring about a stylish finish. After that, Benzema met with disappointment a little later; when his header from Ronaldo’s cross hit the horizontal bar and he shot the rebound uppishly.
After Real took a 3-1 lead, there was still time in the game for Barca to come back but that didn’t happen. Suarez went off in the 69th minute and Pedro came in instead but no revival could be engineered. On the contrary, the home side created some more chances and looked like extending their lead against the visitors, who found themselves foxed by Real’s innovative maneuvers. FC Barcelona would have heaved a sigh of relief merely by avoiding any further damage to the score-line.
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