Raphaël Varane headed in an 81st-minute equaliser as the first instalment of the Copa del Rey semi-final between Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona ended all-square at the Santiago Bernabéu tonight.
Cesc Fàbregas opened the scoring when he fired across Diego López, making his debut in the Madrid goal following his arrival from Sevilla FC, five minutes into the second half. France Under-21 defender Varane nodded the Merengues level late on to herald a tantalising return leg at the Camp Nou on 27 February, four days before the teams meet in the Liga.
The fourth Clásico of the season was less than a minute old when Gerard Piqué fouled Cristiano Ronaldo just as he was about to burst into the penalty area. The forward's subsequent free-kick was beaten out by José Pinto.
Jordi Alba and Karim Benzema volleyed wide either side of Xavi Hernández bending a free-kick against the crossbar. Three first-half minutes later, Xavi was denied by a goal-line block from Varane after Lionel Messi had seized on Ricardo Carvalho's underhit back pass.
Ronaldo might have restored parity when, stooping down, he headed wide Michael Essien's cross to the far post, and he was later thwarted by a superb Piqué challenge as he wound up to convert Sami Khedira's delivery. Pedro Rodríguez clipped wide when clean through 18 minutes from time, profligacy which Varane, leaping to meet Mesut Özil's centre, ensured would not go unpunished.
The first leg of the other semi-final, between Club Atlético de Madrid and Sevilla, takes place on Thursday.
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