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Messi magic inspires Barca

Lionel Messi gets a toe on a cross from Ibrahim Afellay
Image: Messi pokes home the opening goal from Afellay's excellent cross

Lionel Messi gave Barcelona control over 10-man Real Madrid after a bad-tempered UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg.

Real left to rue Pepe red card in ugly semi-final showdown

Lionel Messi gave Barcelona control over 10-man Real Madrid after a bad-tempered UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg which was far from El Clasico at times. The Argentina ace saved his best for last as he made it 2-0 in the 87th minute with his 52nd goal of an astonishing season, and he may not have scored too many better. The diminutive playmaker picked up possession inside Real's half before accelerating away from three incoming defenders, sidestepping two more, drawing Iker Casillas and rolling the ball into the far corner of the net. Messi had fired home the opener in the 76th minute when he converted substitute Ibrahim Afellay's excellent cross from close range. An ugly encounter, which was peppered with play-acting, petty fouls and hounding of the officials, finally boiled over in the 61st minute with Pepe perhaps unfortunate to see red for raising his foot as Dani Alves went to clear. Real coach Jose Mourinho was immediately sent to the stands for questioning referee Wolfgang Stark's decision, with both teams guilty of using every tactic at their disposal in an attempt to gain an advantage. But the magic of Messi enlivened the clash in the closing stages, meaning Barcelona are now favourites to reach the final at Wembley on 28th May ahead of next week's second leg at Camp Nou.


Barca welcomed back captain Carles Puyol - who has been absent for all five of his side's defeats this season - but the visitors still had a number of absentees with Andres Iniesta, Eric Abidal and Adriano among the missing. Madrid, who last week ended their three-year wait for a trophy when they beat Barca to win the Copa del Rey final, were unable to call on the suspended Ricardo Carvalho and injured Sami Khedira. The first half was a cagey affair with Madrid content to let Barca have possession well away from danger and the visitors unwilling to commit too many men forward. That led to Cristiano Ronaldo showing his frustration at one point as well as the home fans, and meant goalscoring chances at either end were few and far between. Xavi tested Casillas with a well-struck volley early on, while the Barca schemer also had the best chance of the opening period in the 24th minute after latching onto Messi's pass. However, he was again denied by Spain team-mate Casillas, who blocked his low shot. David Villa also saw a low effort go not far wide as Barca sought a valuable away goal. At the other end, Madrid fans had to wait until just before half-time to see their side give Barca goalkeeper Victor Valdes something to think about. Ronaldo tried his luck from 25 yards and the ball rebounded back off Valdes' chest. Mesut Ozil looked set to net as he followed up, but Valdes saved his effort and an offside flag would have ruled out any goal anyway. As the players left the field following an increasingly niggly first half, there was a melee between the sides as they entered the tunnel that resulted in Barca's reserve goalkeeper Jose Pinto receiving a red card. Mourinho decided to switch things at the break, taking off Mesut Ozil and sending on Emmanuel Adebayor, who scored twice here in the 4-0 quarter-final, first leg win over Tottenham.
Brilliant second
Both sides had half-chances at the start of the second period, with Messi and Ronaldo seeing efforts blocked, before Madrid defender Sergio Ramos picked up a yellow card which rules him out of the second leg. Much worse was to follow for Madrid though as they were reduced to 10 men when Pepe was shown a straight red card following a challenge on Dani Alves that left the Brazilian writhing in agony. That was the fourth time in four clashes with Barca this season that Madrid have had a player sent off, and Mourinho's anger on the touchline resulted in him being sent to the stands. Barca sensed a great opportunity to take control of the tie and almost went ahead in the 68th minute when Villa saw a shot saved by Casillas and Pedro headed the rebound inches wide. And their next opening saw them take the lead when substitute Afellay did well to create space down the right and his low cross was turned in by Messi running in at the front post. Messi was not finished and struck a brilliant second with three minutes remaining to leave Barca with one foot in the final. The Argentina ace dribbled past several Madrid defenders at pace before sliding a right-footed shot past Casillas.
Real Madrid Team Statistics Barcelona
0 Goals 2
0 1st Half Goals 0
3 Shots on Target 5
3 Shots off Target 3
4 Blocked Shots 3
1 Corners 1
18 Fouls 22
3 Offsides 1
3 Yellow Cards 2
1 Red Cards 1
70.5 Passing Success 91.7
23 Tackles 18
60.9 Tackles Success 66.7
23.2 Possession 76.8
54.7 Territorial Advantage 45.3

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