Sunday, December 23, 2007

Superb win at the Nou Camp

Brazilian striker Julio Baptista scored in the 36th minute to give Real Madrid a 1-0 win over Barcelona 1-0 in La Liga's classic derby.

The tall player met dutch frontman Ruud van Nistelrooy's flicked-on pass with a right-footed shot that spun across goal and into the top right of net past Victor Valdes.

In fact, Madrid and Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas thwarted several Barcelona scoring chances - including a hard shot by substitute Bojan Krkic in the 84th - but the Catalan club appeared lifeless without Argentine star Lionel Messi, who was nursing a thigh injury.

"It wasn't Barcelona's night," coach Frank Rijkaard said. "We have to digest this loss and look to move forward."

With only its third win at the Camp Nou stadium in 24 years, Madrid moved seven points clear of second-placed Barça atop the table with 41 points as the league begins its two-week winter break.

"The fact that Barcelona didn't score at home says it all," Madrid manager Bernd Schuster admitted. "The seven points are an important advantage, but it's still too early to talk about titles."

Despite Ronaldinho Gaucho's return to the starting lineup, Barcelona failed to generate a constant fluid style and was held scoreless at the Camp Nou for the first time in over two years.

"It went well because my team worked hard and we took advantage of a good moment, but I wouldn't say it was an easy victory," Schuster expressed.

Neither squad put a shot on net until the 12th: Pepe redirecting Dutch international Wesley Sneijder's free kick with Valdes crouching to cradle the header.

Petty fouls hindered the the match until Barcelona found its rhythm in the 30th.

Keeper Iker Casillas raced off his line to poke a ball away from an onrushing Samuel Eto'o, then recovered to knock away Andres Iniesta's effort on the rebound.

Talented Xavi Hernandez had Barcelona's first shot on net in the 33rd, Casillas catching the long range strike.

We must notice that the Spain goalkeeper dropped to stop a hard, cross-goal shot from Ronaldinho two minutes before Baptista struck after a quick exchange with Van Nistelrooy.

"Baptista's goal did a lot of damage and changed the rhythm of the game," Rijkaard stated after the match.

The controversial Robinho tested Valdes before both teams went into the lockers with tempers charged from 25 fouls called.

We can say that Barcelona pressed to start the second half, while Madrid appeared content to counterattack, Sergio Ramos forcing Valdes into a save in the 56th and Van Nistelrooy shooting wide from the left five minutes later.

Coach Rijkaard left France international Thierry Henry on the bench and inserted Krkic for Xavi in the 82nd minute and Mexican youngster Giovanni Dos Santos for Portugal midfielder Deco in the 56th.

"I hoped we could change the result until the last moment and we fought to, but it was hard to create occasions," Rijkaard admitted. In fact, his team dropped its first home match in 12 dates this campaign. "They were very well organized at the back, with a lot of players behind the ball and a lot of danger on the counterattack."

We must consider that it was Madrid's fourth straight win and first at the Camp Nou since 2003.