So much for momentum. Barcelona wash away their disappointment in the Copa del Rey with a 2-0 win at the Santiago Bernabeu in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League semifinal clash against Real Madrid thanks to an astonishing brace from Argentine wizard Lionel Messi. Jose Mourinho and Pepe were both dismissed from the match in an incredible second half which saw the visitors gain an almost-unassailable looking league in the tie and seems to be setting up a Manchester United vs. Barcelona final at Wembley next month.
The first half would be difficult to describe as anything but feisty as several players got a little bit out of control. The teams spent almost as much time arguing as they did actually playing football, and there were a couple of absolutely dismal moments - the first coming when Pedro managed to get Alvaro Arbeloa booked after running into the defender and going down clutching his fast, and the second just after halftime when Barcelona backup goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto got involved in a scuffle in the tunnel and was shown a straight red card.
There weren't many opportunities in the first forty-five minutes, either. Xavi and Messi combined to give the former a good chance to shoot on goal, but Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas batted away the effort, and at the other end of the pitch Cristiano Ronaldo forced Victor Valdes to spill a long-range effort towards Mesut Ozil for what looked like the opening goal. It was not, for two major reasons: 1) The follow-up shot was saved and 2) Ozil was offside anyway.
The second half began with what looked like a positive change from the hosts, with Ozil replaced by the imposing figure of Emmanuel Adebayor. Real attacked more, making for a much more open match, but it was Madrid who had the first major chance of the half, when David Villa latched onto a Xavi pass and forced Casillas into a remarkable save from which Pedro couldn't quite control the rebound.
Of course, by then, the match had turned for good, because Real Madrid were down to ten men (and had Jose Mourinho banished to the stands as well). Wolfgang Stark had been extraordinarily good at keeping a lid on things in a rather unfriendly match, but when Pepe lunged in on Dani Alves he appeared to buy into the screaming protests and theatrics of the various Barcelona players and produced a straight red when a yellow would have been much more appropriate. Mourinho was sent off for dissent after rather expressively voicing his discontent, and from then on Madrid had little chance of getting a result.
Barcelona earned their inevitable breakthrough after substitute Ibrahim Afellay skinned left-back Marcelo and got to the byline to deliver an inch-perfect cross to Messi, who nicked in ahead of centre back Sergio Ramos to turn the ball home from very close range, leaving Casillas with no chance. Better was to come from the Catalans. With Madrid exhausted and time nearly up, Messi picked up a pass barely inside the Real half and proceeded to beat no less than five defenders before sending a low rolling shot past Casillas into the back of the net. It was an extraordinary individual effort and well worthy of winning a tie.
Make no mistake, the tie is very probably won for Barcelona. They have a 2-0 aggregate lead and, and they're almost certainly not going to lose by that margin to a Madrid without Pepe or Ramos (who picked up a yellow card and a suspension in the second half) at the Camp Nou. Rough times for Jose Mourinho and company, but Pep Guardiola and his players will be celebrating tonight after a deserved victory