Barcelona, Real Madrid draw Supercup first leg

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

MADRID — Xabi Alonso’s second-half goal earned Real Madrid a 2-2 draw against Barcelona in a first-leg Spanish Supercup match the host largely dominated on Sunday.

Alonso fired a low shot beyond goalkeeper Victor Valdes in the 54th minute to equalize after Barcelona had stunned Madrid by taking a 2-1 halftime lead.

Madrid went ahead in the 13th through Mesut Ozil at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium and dictated play for much of the half as Barcelona’s passing game lacked its usual sharpness. But the individual quality of its players made up for it, as David Villa and Lionel Messi created goals out of seemingly nothing to give the Spanish champions two valuable away goals.

Barcelona may be able to field Cesc Fabregas in Wednesday’s return leg at the Camp Nou after announcing during the game it had reached a deal for the Arsenal midfielder.

In the preseason matchup between the Spanish league winner and domestic cup holder, Madrid created enough chances to merit the victory but was undone by the European champions’ ability to take advantage of their few opportunities.

“My players made a titanic effort to hold up against Madrid in this heat,” said Guardiola, who did not rule out Fabregas making his debut in the return game.

Barcelona looked far from crisp as coach Pep Guardiola left Xavi Hernandez, Sergio Busquets, Pedro Rodriguez and Gerard Pique on the bench, while counterpart Jose Mourinho fielded the same lineup that was routed 5-0 at the Camp Nou in November. Chile forward Alexis Sanchez started in his Barcelona debut but was largely neutralized by Madrid’s defense.

Madrid dominated from the outset, and Valdes kept Barcelona in the game by making a number of stops on Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, including a ninth-minute header from the Frenchman.

Benzema deserved some credit on Ozil’s opener as he cut around Abidal and swiped a pass through Javier Mascherano’s legs to set up the Germany playmaker, who beat Valdes at the near post from inside the area.

Madrid’s upfield pressure troubled Barcelona into turnovers and kept possession largely away from Messi until the Argentina forward fed Villa in the 36th minute. The Spain striker cut into the left edge of the area and sent a perfect shot over outstretched goalkeeper Iker Casillas into the top far corner of the net for the equalizer.

Benzema and Ronaldo had chances shortly before Messi put the European champions ahead in the 45th. Messi bumped off Sami Khedira and past the fallen Pepe into the area before sliding a left-footed shot past Casillas inside the near post.

“It took us time to get into the game,” Guardiola said. “It was a very tough game, very tough. Madrid looks very good so this is a good result.”

But Madrid drew even when Pepe controlled a corner kick and slid a short pass to Alonso to rocket through the crowded area.

Madrid, which had new signings Fabio Coentrao and Jose Callejon debut, continued to press as Valdes got his hands up to deny Ronaldo before catching Benzema’s header in the 67th. Barcelona failed to test Casillas again although the visitors were unlucky not to have a penalty awarded to substitute Pedro after Marcelo barged into him inside the area just before the end.

Mourinho, who returned Saturday to face the Spanish media for the first time since April, did not attend the post-game news conference Sunday to give his thoughts on the match.

“The team is playing better than at this time last season,” said assistant coach Aitor Karanka, who also filled in for Mourinho after he refused to speak to media after UEFA handed the Portuguese coach a five-match sanction for alleging that referees and UEFA favored Barcelona.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

COMMENTARY by Coach Gabe Fernandez:

The two giants of La Liga battle for the rights to open the new season. For the past several years Real Madrid has played second chair behind Barcelona who won La Liga and the Champions league last campaign. But from watching the first leg of the Super Cup, things look more even and has more nail biting theatrics. Jose Mourinho has put his stamp on the Real Madrid side. The team has taken on his fighting and confident personally. The players are working harder than ever to close down space, win 50/50 balls, and have shown the discipline to work as a team. Including star and play maker Cristiano Ronaldo who has been labeled a talented player since day one, but in years has become the Hollywood player that tend to hit the ground when a tall blade of grass touches his foot. The transformation of his work ethic and attitude to be strong and battle through contact under Jose Mourinho has me look at him with respect as a true footballer. Ronaldo has always had the gift and creativity to become one of the great players of his generation, but if he continues to prove a strong physical player with the ability to dance around the opposition, that would put him in the same sentence with great players like Cryuff and Pele and fellow Real Captain Zidane. Messi has already deserved that right. Many people love Messi for his quick feet, but what really gravitates people to him is not just his talented touch, but his tenacity to battle through the contact and keep his feet to make a play or finish on goal. He is humble and leads with an iron heart and a lovable attitude that plays the game fast, physical and without diving. We will see which one of these great players can lead their team to the top of la liga and other campaigns.

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