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One foot in the final

Published: Wednesday 24 April 2002, 13.36CET
Real Madrid CF threw a wet blanket over all the passion and fire that FC Barcelona could offer. features

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Published: Wednesday 24 April 2002, 13.36CET

One foot in the final

Real Madrid CF threw a wet blanket over all the passion and fire that FC Barcelona could offer.

If revenge is to be taken after a long period of domination it is as well to do it in a match of genuine significance. Real Madrid CF will consider that 19 years without a victory in Camp Nou was a fair swap for the opportunity to inflict real hurt on their arch rivals FC Barcelona.

Will and skill
With two second-half goals Madrid threw a wet blanket over all the passion and fire that Barcelona could throw at them in a UEFA Champions League semi-final that transcended mere footballing will and skill. They have one foot in the final and it is asking much for their Spanish foes to dislodge them now.

Class of their own
There was little more that Barcelona could have done in a first half in which they responded positively to their supporters' desperate need to put one over the old enemy. Barcelona might have held sway on their own soil in this particular fixture but in a trophy-winning comparison Madrid are in a class of their own. A ninth Champions Clubs' Cup crown in Glasgow on 15 May, an appropriate way to celebrate Madrid's centenary, would only serve to isolate Barcelona's solitary success in 1992 even more.

'Anything is possible'
Nobody should write Barcelona off just yet but at the same time nobody will underestimate the task that confronts them next week in the Santiago Bernabeú stadium. "In football anything is possible," said the Barcelona coach Carles Rexach.

First half misses
His team, displaying great commitment and neat passing combinations, had suffered in the first half when Luis Enrique headed against the crossbar and Patrick Kluivert had seen a shot scrambled away. Zinedine Zidane's breakaway goal after 55 minutes, though superbly created, was a stunning blow while substitute Steve McManaman's crafty chip which made it 2-0 in injury time was a dagger thrust into the heart of all Catalonia.

'Excellent result'
"It was an excellent result," concluded the Madrid coach Vicente del Bosque. "Barcelona made a great effort and played very well during some spells. We have a second leg ahead of us and we will think about getting through, not about a possible result."

Rivaldo needed
Barcelona recovered from a 2-0 deficit in the quarter-final against Panathinaikos FC but that retrieval mission took place on home soil. Now in seven days time they have to find cracks in a Madrid team who do not have to come out to play. How they need Rivaldo to declare himself fit after injury.

Hierro dependable
As Rexach's team became more and more desperate after the first goal so the visitors' defence grew in authority. Cautious tactics had seen Iván Helguera withdrawn to form a triumvirate of central defenders alongside that dependable totem Fernando Hierro and this year's discovery Francisco Pavon.

Stealthy advances
As moves developed, as Javier Saviola pushed out to the right touchline and Marc Overmars hugged the left, they often found themselves with nobody directly to mark. Concentration became all important and they had to remain alert to deal with the stealthy advances of the deeper-lying Kluivert and Luis Enrique.

Patient game
In attack Madrid were content to await their opportunities even though Roberto Carlos never showed the slightest hesitation to get forward when opportunity presented itself down the left. In midfield Santiago Solari helped Claude Makelele in his covering duties while also posing a threat further forward.

Superb pass
Zidane was given license to roam and his goal came after he took up a clever position out wide with Fabio Rochemback lying injured. The Frenchman was still being granted space when Raúl González's superb pass found him for a lofted finish that went into the net off Roberto Bonano's outstretched gloves.

Trapped in midfield
"Like Valencia. Real Madrid defend with two players so if you get trapped in their midfield they can produce counter-attacks as effectively as we have seen tonight," said Rexach.

'Don't feel disappointed'
"We knew Real would play like that, cooling the match down, but we moved the ball around and created chances. No one could criticise the team because the players gave all they had. I don'tt want people to feel disappointed."

Woe for thousands
Disappointed? There were a great many thousands who would admit to that after the game. Unless something sensational happens in the Spanish capital it looks likely that another Barcelona season will end without silverware.

Last updated: 24/04/02 14.30CET

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