Fri, Jan 27, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Real Madrid lose Cup crown as Barcelona fight back

AFP, Barcelona, Spain

Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos, center, heads the ball in front of Barcelona’s Carles Puyol, right, during their Spanish King’s Cup quarter-final second leg “El Clasico” soccer match at the Camp Nou in Barcelona, Spain, on Wednesday.

Photo: REUTERS

Barcelona survived a late comeback from holders Real Madrid to knock them out of the Spanish Cup with a 4-3 victory on aggregate after a 2-2 draw at the Camp Nou, where the visitors put up a spirited fightback to come from two goals down.

Jose Mourinho may still not have won away to Barcelona in nine attempts as a coach, whether at Real or any of his other clubs, but his team’s performance was a perfect answer to the critics who have blasted their recent poor displays against their archrivals.

First-half goals by Pedro and Dani Alves looked to have put the game beyond the reach of Real before they fought back to level on the night with goals by Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, but in the end came up short and had defender Sergi Ramos sent off late on.

“The players worked hard and I would like to congratulate them for their performance,” Barca coach Pep Guardiola said. “Madrid are a great team and for that reason, our victory has more merit. Madrid played well, but over the 180 minutes, we were the deserved winners. I wouldn’t say that this was our toughest game. I remember the match in my first season away to Sevilla when we were 3-0 up and they pulled it back to 3-2 and if we drew we would lose the league. Madrid are a very strong side, but I wouldn’t necessarily say this team is stronger than the one we faced last season, for example, in the Champions League [semi-finals that Barca won].”

Mourinho had little to say after the game, but was disappointed by his side’s poor finishing.

“There wasn’t very much to talk to the players about at half time because there was little to change. When the team plays well, then you have nothing to say, and I could have spoken for just one minute,” said Mourinho, who it has been reported in the media has indicated he wants to leave at the end of the season. “We played well in the first half. Barcelona scored without having done anything and we had four or five chances. After the break, we tried to vary things by pushing Cristiano further forward and putting Benzema and [Jose] Callejon deeper.”

Real, looking to overturn the 2-1 first leg quarter-final defeat, set off at a high tempo, but went on to miss a hatful of chances, with Gonzalo Higuain especially wasteful.

The game had just kicked off when Real had their first chance for Higuain, but he shot well wide after being played in by a poor Alves back pass.

Minutes later, Higuain had another glaring miss. Xabi Alonso floated in a free-kick and Ronaldo stabbed a shot from close range that was blocked by goalkeeper Jose Pinto and the follow-up fell to the Argentine, who fired over.

Ronaldo shot wide with another opportunity and then after a break by Kaka from midfield, he set up the Portuguese star who, pushed a bit wide, again was unable to hit the target.

Barca were struggling to cope with the darting runs from Mesut Ozil and he was extremely unlucky with a sublime 35-yard strike that crashed back into play off the woodwork.

Barca had offered little, but there was a feeling that the sucker punch would come and it did, just two minutes before the break.

The Real defense rushed to block a Lionel Messi run and left Pedro, who came on for the injured Andres Iniesta, free. He slotted the ball with his weaker right foot into the corner.

Real were stunned, but it got worse as in stoppage time Alves unleashed an unstoppable shot that flew into the roof of the net from the edge of the area.

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