Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Lionel Messi treble puts Real Madrid in shade

Real Madrid 3 Barcelona 4

Delight and despair: Lionel Messi celebrates his second goal, much to the chagrin of Cristiano Ronaldo
Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos is sent off

There were 80,000 white flags held aloft at the Santiago Bernabeu last night as Real Madrid supporters greeted their team. What there was no sign of, in one of the greatest Clasico's in recent memory, was the white flag from Barcelona.

They came from behind twice to win a seven-goal thriller with a Lionel Messi hat-trick.

The win means they close the gap on Real Madrid to just one point and the three goals meant Messi passed two more major milestones.

He has now scored 21 goals in Clasico fixtures, beating Alfredo Di Stefano's previous record of 18, and he has 235 goals in the league, taking him past Hugo Sanchez as the competition's second highest all-time goalscorer.

Who knows how many Di Stefano would have scored in those lightweight rainbow coloured boots. What is clear is that Messi would have been a record breaker in any era. He has apparently been off form this season – he now has 20 goals in his last 18 games.

Messi was drifting deep early on and not being picked up and when he played in Andres Iniesta, the Spain midfielder blasted Barcelona in front.

Messi could have doubled the lead when sent clear by Cesc Fabregas but Madrid were beginning to impose themselves and Karim Benzema should have equalised but somehow blazed Angel Di Maria's cross over.

Di Maria carved Barcelona open down the Madrid left and Benzema headed past Victor Valdes, who got a hand to the ball but in his last ever Clasico failed to keep it out.

Di Maria crossed again from the left moments later and when his centre sailed over Javier Mascherano's head, Benzema controlled it and volleyed it home. The trick was nearly repeated for a third time but this time Pique cleared off the line.

Madrid were on top but Messi made sure they did not go down the tunnel at half-time on top. With brute force and close control in equal measure he cleared a path through Madrid's defence swapping passes with Neymar before shooting past Lopez. It was his 19th goal in a Clasico – no one has ever scored as many.

Fabregas than clashed with Pepe, who in the subsequent melee was pushed into the Barcelona midfielder. Both players were booked but this was proving to be one of the best Clasicos in recent years.

A storming run from Gareth Bale undid Barcelona at the restart but he looked on in disbelief as Benzema failed to score from his assist. It mattered less moments later as Ronaldo went over Alves' outstretched leg and the referee pointed to the spot. The man himself got to his feet and sent it past Valdes to put Real Madrid back in front at 3-2.

But again Barcelona and Messi were not finished and the Argentine threaded the ball though to Neymar inside the penalty area. The Brazilian got the slightest touch from Ramos and spun to the ground. The referee pointed to the spot and gave Ramos the 19th red card of his career. Messi dispatched the penalty – goal No 20 in Clasicos and the strike that took him past Sanchez as the all-time second leading goal-scorer in the history of the Spanish League.

There was still time for Alves's shot to bounce back off Lopez but Xabi Alonso tripped Iniesta in the penalty area and Messi, fittingly, had the last word.

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