Messi, Ronaldo turn on the style in El Clasico

The result ended Barcelona's perfect start to the league campaign as it dropped points for the first time in seven games, but provided yet another memorable chapter in the rivalry between Messi and Ronaldo, two of the biggest names in the sport.

"It should be prohibited to say which is the best in the world," Madrid coach José Mourinho said. "They are both from another planet!"

Ronaldo put Madrid ahead at Camp Nou stadium in the 23rd from a pass by Karim Benzema to extend his scoring streak in "clasico" matches to six.

Then it was Messi's turn, as he took advantage of a defensive slip to level for Barcelona in the 31st, before adding a second goal in the 61st with a perfect free kick from almost 25 yards.

But as Barcelona tried to seal the result, Mesut Oezil unlocked Barcelona's makeshift defensive line to set up Ronaldo to respond five minutes later with the equaliser.

It was, perhaps, a fitting end to the latest head-to-head duel between Messi and Ronaldo, the pair who for the last two seasons have engaged in a two-way scoring race unlike anything the Spanish league has seen before. Messi and Ronaldo are the leading candidates for the world player of the year award, and both showed they more than deserved it with standout performances on Sunday night.

Hat tricks
Ronaldo added to his pair of hat tricks from the previous week, while Messi recorded his 17th career goal against Madrid, leaving him one short of equalling Madrid legend Alfredo Di Stefano's record.

"[Messi and Ronaldo] both try to do everything they can to help their teams and score goals," Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova said. "If Ronaldo hadn't coincided with Messi, perhaps he would get even more recognition."

Atletico Madrid striker Radamel Falcao also scored a pair of goals, helping his team earn a 2-1 win over third-place Malaga. The Colombian international is level with Messi and Ronaldo as league leaders with eight goals each.

Atletico's sixth straight victory lifted it to level on points with Barcelona atop the standings.

At Camp Nou, the stadium was bedecked with independence flags and the game started with the 90 000-plus fans holding up colored cards to form a mosaic of the red-and-yellow Catalan flag before shouting "Independence" in unison in the latest manifestations of the surge of separatist sentiment in the north-west region of Spain.

Politics aside, the home fans quickly returned their attention to Barcelona's thinned backline, which was without both center backs Carles Puyol (elbow) and Gerard Pique (foot). To compensate, Vilanova, in a minor surprise, left new signing Alex Song on the bench, and aligned Adriano alongside Javier Mascherano in the centre of his defence.

Ronaldo caught Barcelona off-balance at the back to open the scoring when he took Benzema's pass and used one sharp touch to drive the ball between the near post and goalkeeper Victor Valdes.

Ronaldo's goal seemed to stun Barcelona, and Madrid had two golden chances to double its advantage two minutes later when Benzema scuffed a close-range shot, sending it off the bar, and Angel Di Maria punched the rebound wide.

Barcelona's injury troubles in defence mounted in the 27th when Dani Alves had to be replaced by Martin Montoya.

Just when Barcelona was suffering the most, Messi stepped up to level the score. Madrid defender Pepe failed to clear a high ball from a deflected cross by Pedro Rodriguez, and Messi slipped in to poke the loose ball past goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

"[Messi] is still very young and we don't know where his limits are, seeing how he trains every day, the desire he brings to gets better," Vilanova said. "I don't think we will ever see a player like him again."

Messi started the second half with a long gallop from deep in his own half, passing two defenders before sending a cross into the area the defence had to scramble to intercept.

Free kick
The Argentina forward then put the hosts in front, winning a free kick before looping it over the wall and beyond Casillas' diving grasp.

But Ronaldo hit right back when Oezil threaded a pass through the defence for the Portugal forward to slot past Valdes.

Montoya almost snatched the win for Barcelona in the 89th when his long strike hit the crossbar after an elaborate team buildup, and Pedro fired just wide of the post after a long sprint to get behind the defence in injury time.

"We let slip an opportunity to leave Madrid 11 points behind, but they are a great team and took advantage of the balls we lost," Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez said. "But overall it was a great match and we deserved the victory in the last 15 minutes."

The draw spoiled Vilanova's bid to become the first coach to lead Barcelona to seven wins in as many games to start the season.

Also on Sunday, Levante beat Valencia 1-0 thanks to Obafemi Martins' first-half goal, Granada downed Mallorca 2-1 for its first home loss, and Athletic Bilbao edged out Osasuna 1-0. – Sapa-AP

Subscribe to the M&G for R2 a month

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

And for this weekend only, you can become a subscriber by paying just R2 a month for your first three months.

Related stories

Between dark and light was Maradona

The life of Diego Armando Maradona, who died this week, will always remind us that the smell of shit is as important as the perfume of flowers, writes Niren Tolsi

Social justice groups call for halt on evictions during the Covid-19 pandemic

Twenty-seven organisations have penned a letter to the presidency calling for evictions to be banned in an effort to protect vulnerable groups

What now for Abu Dhabi’s Man City project?

After being banned by Uefa from European competitions for two years, will the side return to their old, mediocre standards?

Guardiola set for Man City summer squad refresh

The Manchester City manager wants to strengthen his squad in the transfer market so that he can mount a challenge to Liverpool next season

Can Guardiola salvage Man City’s season?

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola conceded the Premier League title to Liverpool long ago, but his side's profligate attack and porous defence are becoming...

City’s financial fair play case is a test of Uefa’s mettle

Either the body must level a punishment of consequence or accept the FFP project as a failure — arguably a fate it was always destined for

Subscribers only

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

Q&A Sessions: ‘I think I was born way before my...

The chief executive of the Estate Agency Affairs Board and the deputy chair of the SABC board, shares her take on retrenchments at the public broadcaster and reveals why she hates horror movies

More top stories

Klipgat residents left high and dry

Flushing toilets were installed in backyards in the North West, but they can’t be used because the sewage has nowhere to go

DRC: Tshisekedi and Kabila fall out

The country’s governing coalition is under strain, which could lead to even more acrimony ahead

Editorial: Crocodile tears from the coalface

Pumping limited resources into a project that is predominantly meant to extend dirty coal energy in South Africa is not what local communities and the climate needs.

Nehawu leaders are ‘betraying us’

The accusation by a branch of the union comes after it withdrew from a parliamentary process

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…