Barcelona rescue draw against Real Madrid in Copa del Rey first leg

Posted at 2:52 PM, Feb 06, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-06 17:47:06-05

The second leg of Real Madrid and Barcelona’s Copa del Rey semifinal remains finely poised after the two sides played out a thrilling draw at the Camp Nou.

Real Madrid took an early lead through Lucas Vazquez after just six minutes and should have further extended their lead before half time.

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But Barcelona grew into the match as the first half wore on, eventually drawing level 10 minutes into the second period thanks to Malcom’s brilliant strike.

Both teams had clear-cut chances to win the match, but a combination of desperate last-ditch defending and sloppy forward play means the two sides head to the Bernabeu all square.

Resurgent Real

“I think we both enjoyed spells on top,” Real’s stand-in goalkeeper Keylor Navas said after the match. “We came here wanting to win but after such a tight match 1-1 is a fair result.

“We wanted to score … and hopefully we can make that away goal count when we play at home and reach the final.

“It’s a privilege the wear this shirt and be part of these matches. Both teams want to be in the final, we just have to make sure we do things better than they do.”

Real Madrid had been boosted by the news that Barcelona talisman Lionel Messi was only fit enough to make the bench due to the thigh injury he sustained in Saturday’s draw with Valencia.

But Los Blancos will have been well aware of the threat their opponents pose even without the little Argentine, having already suffered a humiliating 5-1 defeat to a Messi-less Barcelona at the Camp Nou in October — the final match of Julen Lopetegui’s reign.

READ: El Clasico — ‘Like a cattle prod to the senses’

However, this Real is a different beast to the one Barca tamed comfortably, coming into this clash brimming with confidence after a run of seven victories in eight games.

New coach Santiago Solari’s decision to include scintillating Brazilian teenager Vinicius Junior and the hardworking Vazquez has re-energized Real’s front line.

The duo, along with Karim Benzema playing like a man possessed following a run of six goals in four matches, were causing Barcelona’s defense no end of problems — though several individual errors were doing nothing to alleviate the pressure.

It took just six minutes for the early pressure to pay off, as Vazquez squeezed home the opening goal from Benzema’s pass after brilliant work from Vinicius on the left.

Just a few minutes later, Real had a clear chance to double their lead as Benzema, Vinicius and Toni Kroos bore down on goal unopposed.

But Benzema and Vinicius did the Barcelona defenders’ job for them, inexplicably wrestling each other for the ball and forcing the Brazilian to scuff his shot.

Vazquez’s early goal, nothing less than Real’s early dominance deserved, instantly changed the mood in what had been an expectant Camp Nou.

Now a nervous hush descended on the 92-000 capacity stadium, as the remainder of the first half continued in much the same vein.

Barcelona did eventually muster a couple of chances towards the end of the opening 45 minutes, as Ivan Rakitic saw his header hit the crossbar and Navas tipped Luis Suarez effort around the post.

By the time the half time whistle blew, the possession had been shared equally between the two sides, a rare sight in recent Clasicos.

As the second half began, the Catalan side continued to grow in confidence, as did their now-vocal fan base.

It took just 10 minutes after the restart for Barcelona to draw level as Malcom, who had been in fine form all night, expertly steered home his shot after Suarez had seen an effort rebound off the post.

Now sensing blood, coach Ernesto Valverde introduced Messi for the remaining half an hour.

The substitution had the desired effect, as the captain began to control the game from outside the Real Madrid penalty area, exchanging quickfire passes with Suarez and Jordi Alba around an increasingly static Real defense.

But Sergio Ramos and Co. continued to hold firm, snuffing out Messi’s forays forward at the earliest opportunity — both legally or otherwise.

Though Barcelona dominated the closing stages, Real had chances of their own to win the match, most notably through Welshman Gareth Bale.

After being picked out by Benzema, Bale dawdled on the ball, still clearly rusty from his most recent injury, with the goal gaping and allowed Nelson Semedo to get back and make a challenge.

On balance, it’s hard to argue against a draw being the fair result and leaves everything to play for when the two sides meet again in three weeks’ time for the second leg.