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Lionel Messi's brilliance leads Barcelona to a 2-0 victory over Real Madrid

The two-time world player of the year scores twice in an 11-minute span late in the all-Spanish European Champions League semifinal first-leg game.

April 27, 2011|By Grahame L. Jones
  • Lionel Messi celebrates his second goal against Real Madrid during their Champions League semifinal match at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid on Wednesday.
Lionel Messi celebrates his second goal against Real Madrid during their… (Sergio Perez / Reuters )

So, now that the Albert Einstein ploy has backfired in a massive way, what does Jose Mourinho have left up his sleeve?

Nothing, is probably the answer, because Real Madrid's coach finds himself with a dispirited team, an angry owner and a city full of fans baying for his blood.

Two sublime goals in an 11-minute span late in the match by forward Lionel Messi gave Barcelona a 2-0 victory over Real Madrid on Wednesday in an all-Spanish European Champions League semifinal first-leg game in Madrid.

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

Before the appallingly mediocre and ill-tempered match at Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu, Mourinho tried to give his team a science lesson.

"I told my players there was someone called Albert, Albert Einstein," Mourinho told reporters. "One day he said that the only force more powerful than steam, electricity and atomic energy was will power. And that Albert guy wasn't stupid. With will, you can achieve things."

As far as inspirational speeches go, this one was a dud.

The chance of Real Madrid scoring a three-goal victory at Barcelona's Camp Nou next Tuesday in the decisive second leg of the series hovers somewhere between slim and ludicrous. It was only in November that Barcelona crushed Real Madrid, 5-0, in the same stadium.

So, barring a couple of miracles, it appears that the 2011 Champions League final May 28 in London will be between Manchester United, which defeated Schalke '04, 2-0, in their first game Tuesday night, and Barcelona.

That would make it a repeat of the 2009 final in Rome, which Barcelona won, 2-0.

But first, back to the Bernabeu, where the extraordinary scenes Wednesday night included Barcelona reserve goalkeeper Jose Pinto, who wasn't even playing, being red-carded for a halftime brawl as the teams left the field.

There was also a second-half red card for Real Madrid midfielder Pepe, for a studs-up tackle into or near the leg of Barcelona defender Dani Alves. Mourinho himself was banished from the dugout to the stands for sarcastically applauding the match officials after Pepe's dismissal.

A quick statistic: Total shots on target — eight, total fouls committed — 38.

All in all, the game was a poor advertisement for soccer, with Real Madrid adopting the same tactic it had used recently in defeating Barcelona, 1-0, in the Spanish Cup final in Valencia. It defended in numbers and then defended some more.

Attacking players such as Kaka, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain never even made it off the bench. Mourinho apparently was hoping to contain Barcelona and snatch a goal off the counter-attack. It didn't work.

The players from both teams did their part to make it an unattractive evening, with diving, the feigning of injury and mass protests aimed at German referee Wolfgang Stark being more prevalent than any sort of sustained, fluid soccer. Only Messi's goals saved the occasion.

The match was still tied, 0-0, when Barcelona Coach Josep "Pep" Guardiola took Pedro out of the game — he had been one of the main culprits in terms of feigning injury — and replaced him with Dutch forward Ibrahim Afellay in the 71st minute.

Five minutes after coming on, Afellay sprinted around Real Madrid defender Marcelo and sent a sharp cross into the box for Messi, who had gotten in front of defender Sergio Ramos, to redirect the ball into the net from close range.

That made it 1-0, with the away goal being a vital one. Three minutes before the end, Messi scored a superb second goal, dribbling and weaving his way at high speed past five defenders before slotting the ball into the lower left corner of the net well beyond goalkeeper Iker Casillas' reach.

The two goals summed up the match: 90 minutes of unnecessary theatrics and 90 seconds of magic.

The goals brought Messi's total for the season to 52 in all competitions and, even though it is only April, the two-time world player of the year is almost certain to be a three-time world player of the year come December.

The last word belonged to Mourinho, who once again lashed out at the officiating.

"The return game is mission impossible," he said. "Barcelona has qualified for the final. Sometimes I feel disgusted about this football world of ours. Yes, we have already been knocked out.

"We had the intention to keep the game at 0-0, then bring on a striker, then a third phase with a No. 10 behind three forwards. But the referee didn't allow it.

"Congratulations to Barcelona. But I just do not understand why Barcelona always receive the help of the referee. All my life I will be asking myself this question, and one day I hope to receive an answer."

Perhaps Einstein knows.

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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