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The passing of each El Clásico leaves in its wake — without exception — a brand new chapter in the annals of history documenting the grandest of rivalries: Futbol Club Barcelona versus Real Madrid.
Saturday night’s match at Camp Nou, however, was more than just another episode. It was an epic game that had it all — a tear-inducing pre-game tribute to the recently passed Johan Cruyff and a minute of silence, frighteningly fearless tackling, heart-stopping end-to-end play and, somewhat surprisingly, a tight, evenly matched encounter standing in juxtaposition to an uncommonly large gap between the two arch-rivals in the league table.
Nevertheless, the biggest jolt of all came when the game ended in a shocking 2–1 upset victory for Real Madrid.
The loss, a dramatic reversal from the first meeting between the two rivals this season, when FC Barcelona routed Real in Madrid, 4–0, is FCB’s first defeat since 3 October and snaps their Spanish record 39-game unbeaten streak.
What had been a ten-point gap between the league's first- and third-place teams now sits at seven.
Although the match went into the intermission with a pair of goose eggs on the scoreboard, it was, as El Clásicos always are, the antithesis of a scoreless snoozer. FC Barcelona had the upper hand early with two juicy looks at the Real Madrid goal that Luis Suárez and Ivan Rakitic were unable to convert.
The so-called trident appeared on the radar in the 55th minute after combining on a dangerous attack, as Neymar and Suárez helped find Lionel Messi, whose floating chip toward the upper right corner was exquisitely palmed away by Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas.
But Gerard Piqué broke free on the ensuing corner kick to head in for a 1–0 lead, with Ivan Rakitic chalking up the assist from the corner flag.
Real Madrid drew level at 1–1 on a fortuitous sequence in the 64th, when a pass by Toni Kroos ricocheted up into the air off the heel of defender Jordi Alba and fell right to Karim Benzema, who struck a clean volley to beat Claudio Bravo from the edge of the six-yard box.
Madrid had three straight chances to go ahead with less than ten minutes remaining. Gareth Bale appeared to score on a header but it was nullified when he was whistled for a foul on the jump ball with Alba. Cristiano Ronaldo skimmed a shot off the crossbar. And another Bale shot that squeezed through the legs of Bravo was swept away by Alba before reaching the goal line.
Sergio Ramos was booked for the second time in the 84th minute, leaving the All Whites with ten men and an uphill battle for the remainder.
The battle seemed destined for a draw but, seconds later, Ronaldo settled a high cross from Bale on the far side of the Barça net and slipped the shot past Bravo for the deciding goal.
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