Real Madrid came away with a deserved point, but failed to secure the victory they needed to trim the gap to leaders Barcelona when the outstanding Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo each struck twice in an attritional 2-2 draw in La Liga on Sunday.
A stuttering start by Jose Mourinho’s Real side had left them eight points behind their great rivals after six matches, threatening to derail their title defense before it had even got off the ground.
While they will take comfort from preventing Barca making it seven wins out of seven this term, they may feel they let slip an opportunity in the opening league Clasico of the campaign after Ronaldo gave them a 23rd-minute lead in front of almost 100,000 fans packed into an electric Camp Nou arena.
With millions more around the world watching the heavyweight clash, Messi leveled eight minutes later after a defensive lapse by Pepe and the Argentine World Player of the Year curled in a stunning free-kick just after the hour to make it 2-1.
Real were level within five minutes when German international Mesut Ozil slid the ball through to Ronaldo and the Portuguese forward beat Victor Valdes for a second time with a powerful low strike.
Barca twice came close to a winner in a frenetic finale when substitute Martin Montoya crashed a long-range effort against the crossbar in the 89th minute and Pedro dashed on to an Andres Iniesta pass in stoppage time, only to fire wastefully wide.
“We were superior at times but, it was a very even game,” Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets said in an interview with Spanish television. “Everything is the way it was but with one match less.”
Barcelona have 19 points from seven games, level with Atletico Madrid, who snatched a last-gasp 2-1 win at home to third-placed Malaga at the Estadio Vicente Calderon in Sunday’s late kickoff.
Real, who have already lost twice, the same number of defeats as they suffered in the whole of last season, are fifth on 11 points.
With the world’s two richest teams meeting in probably the biggest fixture in international club soccer, Messi and Ronaldo continued their personal goal-scoring duel on a balmy night in the Catalan capital.
Ronaldo’s double made him the first player to score in six Clasicos in a row, while Messi’s 16th and 17th strikes in Real-Barca matches put him one short of the leading marksman, Real great Alfredo di Stefano.
“[Messi] is still very young and we don’t know where his limits are, seeing how he trains every day, the desire he brings to gets better,’’ Barca coach Tito Vilanova said. “I don’t think we will ever see a player like him again.’’
Ronaldo’s first of the night came when Karim Benzema played him through on the left of the area and he struck a powerful low shot just inside Valdes’ post.
Pepe collapsed in a heap in the area allowing Messi to volley in the equalizer before last year’s La Liga top scorer thrilled the home support with a spectacular 30m effort that left Spain goalkeeper Casillas flapping at thin air.
Ronaldo then netted his 10th Clasico goal when he raced on to Ozil’s fine through ball and scored with another powerfully struck low shot.
“The result is perfectly suited to the match, which was very good and which the whole world enjoyed, just like myself and the players from both teams,” Mourinho told a news conference.