Real Madrid will go to Camp Nou having merely drawn at home and given up an away goal, which is hardly an ideal situation. But given the way they started the second half against Barcelona on Wednesday and the players that they were without, they'll be pleased to still be very much in their Copa del Rey semifinal tie after a 1-1 draw.
The hosts got off to an extremely lively start and looked very up for the match from the start. Inside of the first minute, Cristiano Ronaldo was hauled down just outside the penalty box by Gerard Pique, who was shown a yellow card. Ronaldo's free kick was right to the center of the goal, but swerved wildly and forced Jose Manuel Pinto into a great save.
Xavi had a couple of excellent chances just before the half-hour mark and was unlucky not to score. After a foul by Ricardo Carvalho on the edge of the area, he smacked a brilliant free kick off the crossbar. Three minutes later, he had a shot cleared off the line by Raphael Varane, who had an absolutely brilliant day at the back for Madrid.
Real Madrid had the better chances in the final 15 minutes of the first half, and required a brilliant challenge by Dani Alves to prevent a goal in the 36th minute. A cross by Jose Maria Callejon looked to be headed for the foot of Karim Benzema, but Alves made a spectacular last-ditch sliding challenge to cut it out.
Benzema had his best chance of the game just after halftime. Michael Essien -- who was a contender for man of the match along with Varane and all of Barcelona's playmakers -- started the move with a great tackle on Andres Iniesta to start the move, and the ball eventually found its way to Benzema at the top of the box. He juked Carles Puyol, who fell over, but smoked his shot attempt over the crossbar.
Two minutes later, Lionel Messi made Madrid pay for their missed chances when he set up Cesc Fabregas for Barcelona's opener. The Madrid backline were a bit unlucky to get caught out by a touch by Messi, who poked a 50-50 ball into the path of Fabregas without bothering to win it or bring it down first. Free on goal, Cesc finished comfortably.
Chances continued to fall for both sides as the second half wore on, with both sets of defenders preventing what would have been easy goals for the attacking players against opponents of lesser quality. Varane did brilliantly to pick a ball off Fabregas in the 56th minute when the Barcelona man should have score, and Pique did the same to Ronaldo in the 66th minute following a cross by Mesut Özil.
Barcelona could have scored more, but they have a few poor misses in the second half. In the 70th minute, Fabregas pulled a shot over the bar off a cutback by Alves. Three minutes later, Fabregas sprung Pedro on a counter-attack, but the Barcelona forward failed to finish an easy one-on-one against Diego Lopez.
In the 81st minute, Varane netted a much needed goal for the hosts to pull them back into the tie. An indirect free kick went to Özil, who swung a great cross into the center of the box. Varane rose up between two Barcelona defenders, winning the ball in the air easily and directing a fantastic header to the near post that Pinto was unable to save.
Jordi Alba had a chance to fire his team to victory in the 88th minute, but had his shot saved by Lopez. Barca will feel comfortable with a 1-1 draw heading back to Camp Nou for the second leg of this Copa del Rey semifinal, but Madrid will go to Catalonia with hope, thanks to Varane.