Cristiano Ronaldo won the Clasico for Real Madrid as Barcelona lost their first game in 40 matches despite their opponents having Sergio Ramos sent off.
If he leaves at the end of the season this may well have have been Ronaldo’s last appearance at the Nou Camp and he scored a memorable late winner to give his side a 2-1 win.
With Ramos barely off the pitch for his umpteenth bookable offence, Madrid kept attacking a tired looking Barca defence and when Gareth Bale crossed deep to Ronaldo he found himself at the back post one-on-one with Dani Alves.
The Brazilian full-back jumped but failed to make contact with the ball. Ronaldo waitdd for it to drop on to his chest and then rifled it low past Claudio Bravo before celebrating in front of Barca’s crestfallen supporters.
The game had been billed as a tribute to Johan Cruyff but much of Madrid’s play had been more a homage to Jose Mourinho who made an art form of smothering Barca and making the most of their mistakes.
The result leaves them seven points behind Barca who look ominously fatigued late on and now have just three days to recover before a Champions League quarter-final against Atletico Madrid.
Things were emotional before kick-off when the stadium applauded a video of clips and tributes to Cruyff and the Nou Camp mosaic then spelled out ‘Gracias Johan’ alongside the image of his No 14 shirt.
The following minute’s silence was spoiled by various shouts from the crowd but the Barca players played their own tribute by keeping the ball for the first minute and a half.
There was early needle when Pepe and Busquets crunched into a 50-50 and Dani Alves robbed Cristiano Ronaldo and the Real forward was given what looked a generous foul. Madrid were letting Barcelona come on to them and on 10 minutes the home side could have taken the lead.
Suarez muscled Ramos off the ball allowing it to run on to Neymar. The Brazilian crossed but somehow the centre went through Suarez legs when he had the goal at his mercy. It was a let-off for the Madrid defenders who raced to the referee to complain that Suarez had been offside. They were forgetting that a player cannot be offside from a goal-kick and Ramos protested so much that he was booked.
Madrid were playing with great caution but had their first chance when a Luka Modric pass sent Bale through. His cross hit jordi Alba and was gathered by Claudio Bravo.
Barca still had the upper hand and Dani Carvajal was booked for going in late on both Jordi Alba and Suarez. Messi shaved the bar with the free-kick.
Ivan Rakitic shot too close to Keylor Navas with the next opportunity and when Suarez teed-up Neymar he also failed to finish.
Messi had been quiet in the opening 25 mintues but appeared to have won a penalty when brought down by Ramos on the edge of the area. The referee Alejandro Hernandez Hernandez waved away appeals and the Nou Camp took out the white handkerchiefs to protest the decision. It looked a foul, but just outside the area.
Things were turning uglier and it was in that spirit that Pepe pushed Suarez in the back and then went down holding his face as the Uruguayan put out an arm. Pepe theatrics fooled the referee who booked Suarez.
Mascherano then upended Bale giving Ronaldo the chance to send one of his up and down free-kicks over the wall and under Claudio Bravo’s crossbar. He cleared the wall but the kick kept rising.
A rasping shot from Dani Alves was Barcelona’s last chance of the first half. It had not been pretty at all with Gareth Bale launching Rory Delap style long throws into the area and Real happen just to frustrate a rather flat looking Barcelona side.
The game was being beamed to 184 countries and to a combined television audience of 600 million but the greatest show on earth it was not. Tickets had changed hands for as much as 4,000 euros but the 99,000 inside the stadium were given little value for their money in the first 45 minutes.
In keeping with the first half the first talking point of the second half was a foul. Ramos went through the back of Suarez with what looked a bookable offence. It would have been his second but despite the referee going to his pocket the card never came out. Moments later Ramos elbowed Alves in the Barcelona penalty area – he could have been sent off twice on the night but he was still on his first yellow.
With a moment’s class Messi so nearly lifted the tone. Suarez laid the ball back to him and his delicate chip was heading for Navas’ top corner only for the Costa Rican to palm it spectacularly away.
Barcelona were getting closer and forcing two more corners they finally scored. Raktic took the kick and Pique escaped the clutches of Pep to head it past Navas. Real Madrid looked completely deflated but they had one man on the pitch who still believed and it was Marcelo who set up the immediate response.
He charged at the heart of Barcelona’s defence and released Toni Kroos to his right. The German crossed and as it deflected through to Benzema the ball sat up nicely for him to acrobatically volley it past Bravo. Madrid had finally shown some ambition and reaped the benefit.
Bale should then have put Real ahead but his low shot was saved by Bravo after Benzema had laid the ball back to him. The game had opened up and Mascherano had to slide in on Ronaldo to block his shot. Suarez then flashed a shot just past the post after a fine pass from Messi.
It was Madrid finishing the stronger though and Bale’s header should have won it with eight minutes left only for the referee to cut short his celebrations. A speculative shot from Ronaldo then clipped the top of the bar and Ramos finally got the red card he had been looking for all night by going through the back of Suarez.
The 10-men kept steaming forward though and when Bale’s deep cross dropped to Ronaldo he scored what will surely be one of the most satisfying goals of his career to win it.