|First Division - Day 34|
Real Madrid 1 - Barcelona 2
Casillas; Michel Salgado, Iván Helguera, Raúl Bravo, Roberto
Carlos; Beckham, Cambiasso; Figo, Zidane (Guti 78'), Solari (Antonio
Nuñez 85'); Raúl. 4-2-3-1.
Team changes: Madrid: Cambiasso for Pavón / Barça: Overmars for Luis García.
A thrilling game at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium, where Barcelona came from a goal down to beat Real Madrid 1-2 and move up to within four points of them in the table. The pre-match build had been going on for several weeks, with the "Galacticos" running out of steam after a long, hard season and the Blaugrana coming into the match unbeaten in their last fifteen league games. The atmosphere though was cordial, with Joan Laporta taking a less aggressive approach than his predecessors and accepting an invitation to sit next to Florentino Pérez in the directors' box.
Barcelona were missing Luis García, the unfortunate winger picking up an injury which will mean he misses his debut with Spain for the second time, but Puyol recovered quicker than expected from the knock he took the week before and was in the line up. Ronaldo pulled out of the Madrid squad during the week due to another injury, another blow for Queiroz, and Cambiasso was preferred to Guti to join Beckham in midfield.
Both sides started cautiously, the only possible danger coming from free kicks. But ten minutes before the break Madrid piled on the pressure, and they were unlucky not to take the lead in a couple of goalmouth incidents which had the fans on the edge of their seats. The first came when Víctor Valdés was unable to hold on to Zidane's shot but recovered quickly to block Raúl's close range effort. The ball fell to Roberto Carlos, but Puyol somehow managed to get his head to the shot on the line and divert it over the bar. Then two minutes later Valdés could only punch out Beckham's free kick, Raúl headed it back on to the bar and the keeper somehow palmed away Figo's header, the Portuguese midfielder getting booked for protesting that the ball may have crossed the line.
The momentum continued after the break, Valdés tipping a Roberto Carlos free kick over the bar and then saving from Zidane and Figo in succession, Puyol once again helping him out. But a couple of minutes later Madrid finally got the goal they deserved after the defence failed to clear Beckham's cross, the ball falling to Solari for him to drive a shot through a crowd of players.
Rijkaard reacted quickly though and brought on Kluivert and Luis Enrique for Saviola and Overmars, and within a minute they had drawn level, Van Bronckhorst getting away down the left wing and chipping the ball over for Kluivert to head the ball into the empty net. And twelve minutes later Madrid were left with ten men when Figo picked up a second booking for a high tackle on Puyol, who had to go off soon afterwards to be replaced by Motta.
By now though Barça were in the driving seat, and Kluivert went close twice, heading Ronaldinho's cross just over the bar and then seeing another effort saved by Casillas. Then just when the game seemed to be heading to a draw, Ronaldinho chipped a delightful pass over the top of the defence, and Xavi acrobatically flicked the ball past the keeper and in to the net.
It was a killer blow, and the Catalans could have scored again on three or four occasions after that as they ran the defence ragged. When Raúl put a late effort wide it was all over, and Rijkaard's side had got their own back for the defeat earlier in the season in the Nou Camp. Over 3,000 fans were waiting at Barcelona airport in the early hours of the morning to welcome their side home. Barça are back, and on this form they are still in with a shot at the title.