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Barcelona advances despite 1-1 tie with Real Madrid

SOCCER

Team moves to the title game of the European Champions League on a 3-1 aggregate victory. Manchester United faces Schalke 04 on Wednesday in the second leg of the other semifinal.

May 03, 2011|By Grahame L. Jones
  • Barcelona's Lionel Messi, left, tries to keep the ball away from Real Madrid defender Raul Albiol during Tuesday's 1-1 tie in a Champions League semifinal match.
Barcelona's Lionel Messi, left, tries to keep the ball away from Real… (Siu Wu / AFP/Getty Images )

Barcelona shrugged off Real Madrid as easily as it shrugged off the drenching rain Tuesday and clinched its place in the May 28 final of soccer's European Champions League.

A 1-1 tie was enough to earn host Barcelona a 3-1 aggregate victory over its fiercest rival and a trip to London to face Manchester United or Schalke 04, whose semifinal series will be decided Wednesday.

In Barcelona, it was a case of two goals 10 minutes apart and two teams sometimes light years apart.

Real Madrid might have spent hundreds of millions of dollars acquiring what it regards as the best players on the planet, but Barcelona has outplayed it in all five games between the Spanish giants this season, even when losing.

Here is a rundown on the five games, with the home team listed first, except for the game in Valencia:

-Barcelona 5, Real Madrid 0 (Spanish league).

-Real Madrid 1, Barcelona 1 (Spanish league).

-Real Madrid 1, Barcelona 0 (Spanish Cup final, in Valencia)

-Real Madrid 0, Barcelona 2 (Champions League semifinal).

-Barcelona 1, Real Madrid 1 (Champions League semifinal).

In short, Real Madrid could not defeat Barcelona in Barcelona and could not defeat it in Madrid, either.

So, will winning the Spanish Cup be enough to save Jose Mourinho's job as Real Madrid coach, or will his failure to derail Barcelona and leaving it on course for a third consecutive Spanish league title and a fourth European championship be more than the Real Madrid faithful can stand?

Mourinho, criticized from all sides in recent weeks, was not on the sideline Tuesday, having been suspended.

The odds were stacked against Real Madrid from the outset. In the 56-year history of the Champions League/European Cup, no team has lost by two goals at home and advanced in the tournament's knockout round. The all-time record in that regard is 0-75.

Still, nine-time champion Real Madrid tried to make more of a game of it in the second leg of the semifinal series than in the first. For brief periods, its attack looked likely to pierce the Barcelona defense.

Fortunately, the game, preceded by a thunderstorm, included few if any of the theatrics of the first leg, when ugly soccer and uglier confrontations prevailed.

It was Barcelona that took the lead. After Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas had made four outstanding saves in the first 45 minutes, Pedro gave Barcelona the lead in the 54th minute when he slotted home an inch-perfect through ball from Andres Iniesta.

That made it 3-0 on aggregate, but within 10 minutes Real Madrid was back on level terms, at least in the game if not the series. Argentine winger Angel di Maria banged a shot off the left post, the ball rebounded to him and he slipped a pass inside for Marcelo to drive into the net to make it 1-1.

That's where it stayed. Barcelona tightened up on defense and before the final whistle Coach Josep Guardiola was even able to send Eric Abidal on as a late substitute to the delight of the Barca fans.

Abidal, diagnosed in March with liver cancer, underwent an operation and now has the chance to play in the Champions League final. The French international was tossed into the air after the final whistle Tuesday by Barcelona players.

"The dressing room is a happy place at the moment," Guardiola said. "There has been so much work behind this. Many of the players started the season on the back of the World Cup" in South Africa last summer.

"It's a real feat getting to the final after such a hard season, and on top of that to eliminate a great team like Madrid."

Manchester United carries a 2-0 lead into its semifinal second-leg game Wednesday (11:30 a.m., FX and Fox Deportes), and looks all but certain to be Barcelona's opponent in the final.

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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