Lionel Messi"s hat trick helped Barca earn a massive victory over Real Madrid in the latest edition of El Clásico.
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Barcelona defeated Real Madrid thanks to a late Lionel Messi penalty in one of the greatest Clásico matches in recent memory. The game had just about everything over the 90 minutes including a hat trick, three penalties, a red card and some spectacular goals.
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The match got off to a nice, energetic start with both teams getting good chances to grab an early goal. Lionel Messi hit Neymar with a well-played pass in the fourth minute but the Brazilian"s shot from a tough angle was covered up by Diego Lopéz. A minute later, a slightly hobbled Karim Benzema grabbed a poor pass in the Barca box but sent his shot well wide.
The fact that Messi and Neymar were able to counter quickly against the Madrid defense was a warning, but the lesson wasn"t learned by Los Blancos. In the seventh minute, Messi found Andrés Iniesta on the left side of the box and the Spaniard did not waste his chance. Iniesta"s shot went up and over Lopéz"s shoulder, and into the top right corner of the goal, giving Barcelona an early 1-0 lead.
Benzema again wasted a wonderful chance in the 13th minute, skying a low cross from Ángel di María well over the crossbar.
Finally in the 20th minute, Benzema proved that third time is indeed the charm. Di María set up the chance, sending in an exquisite cross from the left wing that Benzema rose to meet. The striker"s header was well placed, but Victor Valdés will be annoyed with himself as the ball bounced off his gloves and over the line to pull the Merengues even at 1-1.
Four minutes later Di María and Benzema connected again, giving Madrid their first lead of the day. Benzema somehow managed to control Di María"s cross with his thigh, spinning the ball up in the air and rocketing a volleyed shot past Valdés, making it 2-1.
Watch: Iniesta"s opener Benzema"s brace Messi"s first goal Ronaldo"s penalty Ramos" red card Messi"s winner
Benzema was denied a hat trick in the 26th minute when, you guessed it, Di María found the striker with a cross from the left. Benzema settled the ball and fired a shot that was blocked off the line by Gerard Piqué.
Just before the halftime break, Messi jumped on a loose ball in the Madrid box and directed a low shot past López to even the match at 2-2. Messi sent the initial ball in to Neymar, who managed to return the favor just ahead of a lunge from Dani Carvajal. Messi darted in front of Sergio Ramos, who did move quickly enough to make a clearance and used the pocket of space in front of goal to tie things up.
Reactions: Madrid was arrogant, Messi was stunning
Kevin McCauleyComing into El Clásico, Real Madrid were being heralded as the best team in the world. They might still be that, but they appeared to believe their own hype against Barcelona.
The goal pulled Messi even with Hugo Sanchez on the La Liga all-time scoring list (234) and moved him ahead of Alfredo Di Stéfano for the all-time goal-scoring lead in Clásicos (19).
Gareth Bale"s first good contribution to the match arrived in the 52nd minute when the Welshman made a lightning quick run through the defense, sending a pass to Benzema as the striker broke into the Barca box. Valdés was ready though, blocking Benzema"s shot away.
Cristiano Ronaldo finally got the penalty he"s been shouting about since the first Clásico of the season in the 55th minute when he tripped over Dani Alves" foot on the edge of the box. The referee wasted no time pointing to the spot and the Portuguese striker finished things off himself, beating Valdés low and to the left to make it 3-2.
Barca wasn"t done though and in the 63rd minute, Sergio Ramos made some contact with Neymar in the box, denying a goal-scoring opportunity and bringing out a red card. Madrid fans won"t be thrilled with the call, but Barca didn"t care as Messi stepped up and just beat López to again even the match, this time at 3-3.
Dani Alves nearly pushed Barca back in front in the 74th minute, pinging a shot off the post ... but the goal would come.
Xabi Alonso brought down Iniesta as the Barca midfielder tried to jump past him on the right side of the box. A penalty was quickly given, much to the chagrin of Alonso and his teammates. Messi coolly stepped up and completed his hat trick, giving Barca a 4-3 lead.
With the Barca victory, Real Madrid suddenly find their lead at the top of the table gone as Atlético Madrid take over first place on a tiebreaker. Barcelona, meanwhile, resuscitated their league campaign, pulling within a point of both the Madrid sides.
Real Madrid: López, Marcelo, Ramos, Pepe, Carvajal, Modrić (Morata 90"), Alonso, Di María (Isco 85"), Ronaldo, Benzema (Varane 66"), Bale
Goals: Benzema (20", 24"), Ronaldo (55")
Barcelona: Valdés, Alba, Mascherano, Piqué, Alves, Busquets, Fàbregas (Sánchez 78"), Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Neymar (Pedro 68")