Cesc Fábregas's first big night out since returning to his home town ended in a fight but it also ended in celebration.
The former Arsenal captain has collected his first trophy as a Barcelona player, just two days after joining the club. It was 1am when he was parading round the Camp Nou pitch with new team-mates and old friends carrying the Spanish Super Cup, snatched from Real Madrid's grasp in dramatic fashion. At last the clásicos were something approaching a classic – some way from the four games in 18 days that these teams played last season.
Fábregas was on the pitch for a little over 10 minutes but he packed in enough incident for five times that. As he stood on the touchline waiting to come on with just over 10 minutes remaining, he saw his first trophy appear to slip away before his eyes. Barcelona were 2-1 up, 4-3 on aggregate, and Cesc was hopping up and down when a poor corner from Kaká was only half cleared by Adriano. Turned back in, Karim Benzema brought it down on his chest and smuggled it beyond Víctor Valdés.
Suddenly it was 2-2 on the night, 4-4 on aggregate. A superb first half had given way to a bitty second and Barça appeared to have lost their way. There had been few genuine opportunities although Sergio Busquets had headed over and Andrés Iniesta had seen Ilker Casillas block. The best chance had fallen to Madrid's Sergio Ramos from another corner – only for him to head wide from the edge of the six-yard box.
If Fábregas had hoped to enjoy the final minutes, he had a job to do. And he certainly did it. His first touch was a simple, inconsequential pass for Eric Abidal but there was a key contribution to be made. The truth, though, was that the greatest impact would be made, yet again, by Lionel Messi – the Argentinian, who scored in the first leg, got two more here and made the other with a sumptuous assist. This time he was helped by Fábregas.
There were three minutes remaining and this match, which had kicked off at 11pm, was heading for a late finish. Fábregas's slick ball across to Messi from the right was instantly turned into the path of Adriano. Messi continued his run and Adriano's ball fell for him to hit a clean left-footed volley into the net to make it 3-2 and 5-4 on aggregate. Although neither he nor his team has been able to dominate as is their custom, Madrid's intensity making that impossible, ultimately Messi's contribution would prove colossal.
Like the first leg, this was another fast, intense match, with both teams squeezing each other high up the pitch, forcing the pace ever faster – the ball whizzed about and the challenges did too. At times the precision, at such pace, was mind-boggling. At others, the sheer athleticism was. Often the entire game appeared to be played in a 20-metre strip as each side sought a way to spring the lock and race into the open field beyond.
On the quarter-hour Leo Messi had produced an assist that was almost a carbon copy of the one provided for David Villa when Barcelona defeated Real Madrid 5-0 last November. Dropping the shoulder and shifting his weight with the speed and imperceptibility that made it impossible to react to, he cut inside and away from Sami Khedira, before threading an immaculate pass through the gap for Iniesta to run on to. There was still a long way to goal and Casillas to beat. Breath was held but Iniesta put the brakes on, paused and clipped it over the keeper.
Madrid deservedly equalised, Ronaldo nudging Benzema's shot past Valdés following a corner. It was the first time he had scored in five trips to the Camp Nou and, astonishingly, it was his 100th Real Madrid goal. And, if he barely touched that one, he thumped the next when, five minutes later, he sent a shot screeching towards goal, off Valdés's fists and against the bar.
Ronaldo was active but again Messi proved decisive, giving Barcelona the lead when he chested a corner into the path of Gerard Piqué and ran on to the central defender's clever backheel, finding space in a congested penalty area just before half time. One touch, two, and the third was a delicate dink over Casillas as Ronaldo skidded in on his knees.
Madrid's second equaliser in the 79th minute, as Fábregas waited, forced Barcelona to act. It forced the man coming on to do so too. His pass helped set up the winner and even then there was more drama. Almost immediately afterwards he was sent crashing to the floor by an angry, frustrated tackle from Marcelo. The Brazilian was handed a red card and suddenly it flared up on the touchline as players and officials waded in. José Mourinho appeared to clash with a Barcelona assistant and José Morais came springing out of the technical area to confront another. Gonzalo Higuaín grabbed at the throat of Barcelona's substitute goalkeeper José Pinto. Mesut Ozil, Villa and Marcelo were all sent off. All around people lost their heads and confrontations sparked but Fábregas, as he lay on the floor, could afford to smile. It had been quite a night.
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