February 2 2019 will go down in history as (yet another!) of those marvellous FC Barcelona nights at the Santiago Bernabéu. Following a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou and a first half in which Real Madrid caused far more danger, with Vinícius Júnior producing some dazzling football, everything finally slotted into place in a quite extraordinary second half.
Luis Suárez was the man of the evening, with two of the goals and very nearly a third. His first was a trademark bullet following a fine solo move by Ousmane Dembélé and his second came from the penalty spot, converted in audacious ‘Panenka’ fashion.
In between, he was on the point of slotting home another. But in an attempt to get there first, Rafael Varane ended up popping the ball into his own net.
It means Barça are now headed for a sixth consecutive Copa del Rey Final (becoming the first team in one of Europe’s ‘big five’ leagues to ever achieve the feat) and are just one game away from a record fifth cup title.
Betis, who host the final at the Benito Villamarin, meet Valencia on Thursday to decide who the other finalists will be.
But the rampant way in which Barça tore to victory in the second half could not have contrasted more with a tense, nervy first half that saw Vinícius come close to scoring five times before Barça had barely had a sniff of their own.
Some stunning goalkeeping from Marc Andre Ter Stegen was largely to thank for even keeping Barça in the game, and the home fans were smiling confidently as they tucked into their half-time sandwiches.
But as they had done against Sevilla at the weekend, Barça saved their best for the second act. Suárez’s opener was a complete game-changer. From then on, a nervous swagger turned into a confident strut and Real Madrid were on the receiving end of Barça at their most clinical.
Just as Madrid had squandered chances in the first half, Barça made theirs count in the second. To win games, you need to put the ball in the net, and that’s where Barça are masters.
Ten wins at the Bernabéu in the last decade are testimony of that.