Real Madrid (2) 1 - Barcelona (0) 1
César; Michel Salgado, Hierro, Iván Helguera, Roberto Carlos;
Figo (McManaman 68'), Makelele, Zidane (Flavio Conceiçao 46'), Solari;
Raúl, Guti (Pavón 87'). 4-4-2.
Report by C.P.Rune
With the shock defeat at the weekend to Real Sociedad virtually ending Madrid's chance of the title, and the Spanish Cup fumbled in front of their own fans, the home side had everything to lose in the Bernabeu. They were still favourites both for this tie and the cup itself following Bayer Leverkusen's removal of Manchester United from the competition. Barcelona on the other hand were travelling more in hope than expectation to a ground that had given them little over the years and with a two goal deficit to overcome their primary concern would have been to avoid humiliation in front of a packed house desperate for them to fail.
The onus was on the visitors to push on and try and upset a home side that defended deeply and appeared at first almost complacent. An early shot from Xavi from distance and a free kick that almost fell to the feet of Cocu were indicative of a good early start for the Catalan side. Barcelona enjoyed a lot of possession but were finding it difficult to break down a solid but cautious Madrid defence, especially on a pitch which had been heavily watered by ground staff shortly before kick-off.
Tempers flared in the eighteenth minute; the tension of the night never far below the surface after Luis Enrique, back in the stadium where he had forged his reputation, was once again bundled to the ground. To reinforce the point Makelele drove the ball into the prone Enrique from close range. From the resulting free kick Frank de Boer curled the free kick off the top of Zidane's head and past both the goal and the stranded goalkeeper.
Minutes later Madrid offered the warning that it was not going to be all one way traffic. This side possesses so much quality that they are capable of anything at any time. Roberto Carlos, ever dangerous down the left hand side, fed Zidane whose first touch suggested brilliance. His second touch, a curling left footed drive from outside the box whizzed over the bar with Bonano a helpless admirer. After another period of sustained Barça pressure it was Madrid who broke swiftly away with Raúl and Guti charging down the middle at a surprisingly sparse rearguard. Raúl fed Guti with a delightful pass that left the defenders stranded. Bearing down on the goal from the right hand side Guti smashed a rising drive towards the top corner that Bonano somehow managed to tip over the bar. A minute later a classy turn by Raúl gave him a clear sight of the target but his weak shot was gratefully pounced upon by the Argentine keeper.
In the 39th minute Barça hopes rose when they nearly converted their superior possession into something tangible. As the ball was cleared the excellent Rochemback drove a cannon of a low shot towards the Madrid goal. It was flying wide until Cocu, reacting quickly and at full stretch, somehow managed to divert the ball and with César rooted to the spot, the ball bounced back off the upright. The world seemed to stop for a second but when action resumed César had some way to go to close the ball down with Kluivert and Makelele racing in. As César tried to smother the shot Kluivert got it all wrong and under pressure missed the ball completely but connected all of his studs with the side of the keeper's head. All hell broke loose and it took some minutes for César to recover, blood streaming from a nasty gash on his cheek.
This seemed to pep Barça up and they looked much the hungrier side but in the 43rd minute their worst nightmares were realised and two goals to haul back became three. Xavi was caught in possession and as Zidane and Raúl raced away the Spanish maestro shrugged aside his illustrious colleague and from 20 yards hit a rising left foot drive into the top corner of the net that Bonano stood no chance of intercepting. It was a moment of sheer brilliance that sent the crowd into raptures; a hammer blow in every respect.
Barça bravely responded although their hearts must have been in their boots and Kluivert, who had been toiling from deep all night, send a fierce shot too close to César to cause trouble. The half ended with a Madrid free kick from 40 yards out that had Roberto Carlos marking out his fast bowler's run up. The referee, the charismatic Italian Collina, had trouble getting the wall back 10 yards - in fact he had to urge them forward some distance to achieve this. Despite the big build up the result was a damp squib and the half ended with the home fans singing.
Rexach made a change at the start of the second half that hindsight says should have been made from the start. Overmars came on for the more defensively sound Coco as Barça had to throw everything they had at the white wall. Madrid withdrew Zidane as they decided to shut up shop in the midfield. It was no surprise that the first chance of the second half fell to Madrid with Guti clean through following Abelardo's slip. He should have put the tie beyond any doubt but his shot, straight at the keeper, was disappointing. Disappointment turned to anguish minutes later when the visitors gave themselves the ghost of a chance with a much deflected equaliser. Cocu's cross from the left hit the outstretched hand of Hierro, and before anyone could begin to appeal for a penalty Saviola managed to glance the ball onto Helguera's shin and he had no choice but to send the ball past his own keeper and into the net. It was no less than Barça deserved and gave the tie an edge that it had nearly lost.
Madrid went straight down the other end and Raúl hit a fantastic curler towards the top corner but Bonano pulled off a fine save to keep Barça's hopes alive. Madrid were forced deeper and deeper but their defending became more frantic and, like Barcelona, more desperate. In the 57th minute Abelardo, up for one of a series of corners, managed to leap like a salmon above two defenders but his firm header was just over the bar. With just over 15 minutes to go the chance that will have Luis Enrique forever waking up screaming in the middle of the night came and went. Overmars, who had threatened down the left side cut back and sent a great cross to Kluivert. With no space to work in and defenders all around he cleverly back-heeled the ball along the middle of the 18 yard box and Luis Enrique, with time and space, sent a brilliant low shot curling past the keeper - and the post. Kluivert couldn't keep a shot down when he managed to wriggle free and the Madrid fans knew it was to be their night when, two minutes from the end, a great ball inside the full back released the speedy Overmars who failed to pick out any of the four unmarked team-mates in the area and as the ball rolled across invitingly to the substitute Geovanni, who had time to bring the ball under control, he skewered the ball high into the crowd and with it any hope for Barcelona's season.
Madrid survived and will march to Glasgow with expectation high, and Barcelona must spend time and money in the summer trying to match the excellence of their big city rivals. In the end they fell only just short and with a couple of slices of luck could have pulled off a famous victory, but it had been a season of ifs, buts and maybes.