Barcelona 3 Real Madrid 3: Magical Messi is Barcelona's hero

By Ben Hayward at The Nou Camp

Lionel Messi was the toast of Barcelona last night after he completed a hat-trick in injury time to salvage a 3-3 draw for 10-man Barça in a thrilling confrontation here with arch rivals Real Madrid.

Real's coach, Fabio Capello, could have done with the experience of David Beckham, Roberto Carlos, Fabio Cannavaro and Jose Antonio Reyes, but all four missed the trip through injury and the Italian was forced to field a severely weakened side.

But even so, Real looked set to win until the 19-year-old Messi latched on to a pass by Ronaldinho, beat two defenders and thrashed a left-foot shot across Iker Casillas into the corner of the net to cap a sensational performance in El Gran Classico, in which Ruud van Nistelrooy scored twice for Real and Barça had Oleguer sent off for a second bookable offence on the stroke of half-time.

In an encounter marked by almost non-stop action, Van Nistelrooy put Real in front in the fifth minute when he was first to react as the ball ran loose in the Barcelona penalty area. But Messi responded by drilling a shot past Casillas after a good move ended with Samuel Eto'o laying on the chance.

In a frantic opening, Van Nistelrooy restored Real's advantage when the Dutchman converted a penalty after 13 minutes when Oleguer tripped Guti. He earned a yellow card that would come back to haunt him just before the end of the half.

However, Messi was not about to be upstaged. The Argentinian equalised for a second time when he pounced on a loose ball to beat Casillas with a fierce rising shot in the 29th minute.

Barça spent most of the second half on the back foot as Real tried to take advantage of their numerical superiority. The home side eventually cracked 17 minutes from time when the Real defender Sergio Ramos headed home what looked to be the winner from a free-kick by Guti.

Both teams went into the match under intense pressure after being knocked out of the Champions' League in midweek. Real had lost 2-1 at Bayern Munich, going out on the away goals rule, as did Barcelona, despite achieving a 1-0 victory at Liverpool.

The Catalans had also lost their lead in the Spanish League with a painful 2-1 defeat at Sevilla last weekend.


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