Lionel Messi kept Barcelona’s La Liga title hopes alive with a 92nd minute winner in the home of their fiercest rivals Real Madrid by netting his 500th goal for the Catalan giants, providing an apt end to a truly tantalising El Clasico.
The hosts took the lead midway through the first-half thanks to a close-range effort from Casimero who received some good fortune after finding himself on the end of Sergio Ramos’ rebounded effort, but were pegged back just minutes later as Messi scored his 499th goal for the club after a mesmerising run and finish.
Barca looked set to secure all three points thanks to a thunderbolt from Rakitic midway through the second-half which then seemed even more valuable as Sergio Ramos received a red card after a horrific attempted challenge on the little Argentine, but Zinedine Zidane’s men showed fighting spirit to equalise with 10 minutes remaining through James Rodriguez.
However, Messi provided yet another moment for the ages after firing his left-footed effort past the outstretched Keylor Navas to secure a memorable win for Barca in the Spanish capital.
Two of the biggest clubs in world football collided for the 174th time in La Liga history after very different weeks in Europe, but for the second consecutive fixture, questions surrounded the officials.
Indeed, Cristiano Ronaldo was left distraught inside the 18-yard box as his penalty appeals were tuned down by Alejandro Jose Hernandez Hernandez after seemingly being felled by Samuel Umtiti within only 90 seconds.
In the 20 minutes that followed, both sides entered into attacking sparring-mode, exchanging blows, with Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale’s peppering Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s goal – they were only interrupted by Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Andres Iniesta doing the same for Keylor Navas’.
Play was stopped momentarily as the Argentine magician Messi lay with his head in the turf, seeping blood after an unintentional collision with Marcelo’s elbow.
Following the interruption, the chaos continued, but it was the hosts who finally took the initiative when Casimero bundled the ball home from close range after Sergio Ramos’ initial effort rebounded into the path of the 25-year-old Brazilian from the woodwork allowing the defensive midfielder to spark scenes of jubilation inside the Spanish capital’s cauldron.
However, those celebrations were quickly subdued as Messi produced a typical moment of magic curbing a six-game El Clasico baron spell and moved his tally to 499 goals for the Catalan giants as the 29-year-old skipped away from three Madrid defenders to fire past the helpless Navas.
But one of the world’s greatest proved he was indeed human just moments before half-time as the all-time leading El Clasico goalscorer ghosted into the back-post to latch onto an in-swinging corner which flew past the flapping Madrid custodian, but the Barca hero could only direct his effort wide of the gaping Los Blancos net leaving the scores level at the break.
The opening 15 minutes of the second-half gave both goalkeepers the opportunity to make the headlines with simply sensational saves, as Barcelona’s Ter Stegen took the spotlight early-on after denying Benzema’s point-blank range header with his left-foot which looked certain to nestle in the back of the net.
However, his opposite number was not to be outdone by the young German, who produced a similarly outstanding stop from Gerard Pique’s bullet effort, a save that was greeted with gracious disbelief from the majority of the 80,000 inside the Santiago Bernabeu.
But nothing was as unexpected as what followed, with Ronaldo showing the same human traits to that of Messi earlier in the evening as the Portuguese star spurned what was the simplest chance of the night – firing the ball high over the crossbar unopposed from six-yard out with the Barca custodian nowhere to be seen.
Less than 10 minutes later however the full-house in attendance were left equally as stunned as Rakitic fired the Catalonians into the lead with a stunning strike which nearly dislodged the net bindings after Madrid struggled to clear their lines, sparking carnage within Barcelona supporters high aloft.
The typically action-packed El Clasico then took another crazy turn as the already booked Madrid captain Ramos received a straight red card from Alejandro Jose Hernandez Hernandez after leaving the ground and almost assaulting the advancing Messi with a reckless two-footed challenge.
However, the visitors were unable to capitalise on their man advantage, mainly thanks to two outstanding saves by Navas from two venomous efforts, courtesy of Messi and Pique, and were eventually punished by Rodriguez who was able to take advantage of another case of hapless Barca defending by latching onto Marcelo’s deliciously delivered cross unopposed to turn the ball home for the equaliser from six-yards out.
The hosts thought they had secured a vital point in their bid to become champions, but once again Messi proved otherwise and silenced the Santiago Bernabeu in the final minute of stoppage time by firing an inch-perfect winner into the left-hand corner – reaching 500 goals for the Catalan giants in the process from the last kick of the game.