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Arun Pradeep
Monday , October 08, 2012 at 19 : 15

El Clasico: Messi and Ronaldo bring out the best in each other


Rambo: "All I wanted was something to eat. But the man kept pushing, sir."

Colonel Trautman: "Well you did some pushing on your own, John."

Rambo: "They drew first blood, not me."

Colonel Trautman: Look Johnny, let me come in and get you the hell out of there!"

Rambo: They drew first blood ...

Colonel Trautman: Rambo, are you still reading me? Company leader to Raven! Rambo! Acknowledge!

Lionel Messi was not smiling.

He had just scored the equaliser for Barcelona after Cristiano Ronaldo had put Real Madrid ahead with a sublime finish at the Camp Nou. In Messi's lair. After scoring the opener, Ronaldo had wagged his index finger as if to caution a hostile crowd, and pointed to himself and to the ground, as if to say, "I'm here to stay".

Just minutes after Ronaldo's opener, Messi took advantage of the chaos in the Real Madrid backline to slot in the equaliser. Amid hugging, tousling and back-pats from team-mates, the Argentinean never once smiled, only raising his fist and letting out what could have been a warcry. "Now," he seemed to be saying, "It's on".

He wasn't bluffing. In the 61st minute, Messi buried a perfect free kick deep inside Iker Casillas' goal. The Real captain rightly guessed the direction of the free kick and almost levitated going after it, but it was too good. As the Real players looked on stunned, Messi, swamped now by grateful team-mates, was grinning from ear to ear.

Just six minutes later, however, Ronaldo had converted a through ball by Mezut Ozil, who put the Portuguese clear with a magnificent swish of his left foot. Coming face to face with a clearly jittery Victor Valdes, Ronaldo thumped a low, hard drive to make it 2-2. Running across the ground in celebration, he thumped his chest again, while ecstatic team-mates converged on him. "I'm the man," he seemed to be saying. "Anything you can do, I can".

"I don't know if Ronaldo has done enough (to win the FIFA Ballon d'Or)," Jose Mourinho, the Real Madrid coach, said after the match. "All I know is that talking about who is the best player in the world should be banned because these two are so good."

In a titanic tussle, both Barcelona and Real Madrid had chances to win, perhaps the visitors more so than the home side. Karim Benzema, whose touch is usually extraordinary -- as it was yesterday when he put Ronaldo through to score Real's first goal -- found his skill deserting him when he himself had to do the honours. He missed at least two sitters.

Barcelona for their part managed to pull through despite playing without their first choice centre-backs, Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique. While defensive midfielder Alex Song was expected to deputise alongside Javier Mascherano in central defense, Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova chose Correia Adriano ahead of Song. Adriano is orginially a left-back, but Vilanova said he chose him for his pace.

The new coach also showed guts by taking off veteran right-back Dani Alves minutes after Real's opener, replacing him with young Martin Montoya. Alves had been culpable in conceding the first goal, though it is also speculated that injury led to his substitution. Montoya, who was secure in defense, almost won the match for Barcelona, rattling the crossbar in the final minutes when Real were hanging on for dear life.

"I think at the start of the season had we known we would be eight points clear, we would have accepted it," Vilanova said. "We had chances at the end, but we also had four defenders who were first choice last season who were injured".

The 2-2 draw on Sunday brought an end to Barcelona's perfect start to the season, but they remain the Spanish League leaders and eight points ahead of Real. But whenever these two sides meet again - their next La Liga meeting is on March 3 of next year - for two men, drawing first blood will mean a lot more than most.


More about Arun Pradeep

Arun Pradeep is a sports journalist who has covered international cricket and tennis events. A keen follower of European football and enthusiastic blogger, he has written extensively on the sport for the New Indian Express. His biggest dream is to see AC Milan play Newcastle United in the Champions League final with both teams sharing the trophy. Against better judgement and despite nebulous prospects, Arun firmly believes a writer's life is the best there is, even if his mom ends up footing the bills, as she often does.