Real lose crown to Clasico rivals
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 Nou Camp on Wednesday, with the visitors putting 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 their critics who have blasted their recent poor displays against their arch rivals.
First-half goals by Pedro and Dani Alves looked to have put the game beyond the reach of Real but 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," said Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola. "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 which Barcelona 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 and Higuain had another glaring miss. Xabi Alonso floated in a free-kick and Ronaldo stabbed a shot from close range which was blocked by the keeper Jose Pinto and the follow-up fell to the Argentine who fired over.
Real were dictating the play and finding cracks in the Barcelona rearguard but the problem was that they were not making the most of the openings and against a side of the calibre of the Catalans it was always likely to prove costly. Ronaldo shot wide with another opportunity and then after a break by Kaka from midfield he set up Ronaldo, who pushed a bit wide, again was unable to hit the target.
Barcelona were struggling to cope with the darting runs from Mesut Ozil and he was extremely unlucky with a sublime 35-yard strike which crashed back into play off the woodwork. It seemed as though the ball would never go in for Higuain as after a poor clearance he shot tamely back at the keeper.
Barcelona had offered little but there was a feeling that the sucker punch would come and it did just that two minutes before the break. The Real defence flocked 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 which flew into the roof of the net from the edge of the area.
It was always going to be a difficult second half for Real and that was made worse by a disallowed goal for Ramos after a tug on Alves.
The game began to turn scrappy but that turned out to help Real as Barcelona lost their concentration. Alonso slipped a ball through for Ronaldo to round the keeper and score to reopen the game after 67 minutes and then substitute Benzema took advantage of slack defending to bring the scores level.
The night's other game was not quite as dramatic, with Athletic Bilbao winning 1-0 at Real Mallorca to seal a 3-0 aggregate win, with Ivan Ramis' second-half own goal the difference on the night.
The Basque outfit will now face third-tier Mirandes, with either Valencia or Levante ahead for Barcelona.