Simply inseparable: Messi and Ronaldo deserve to share the 2012 Ballon d'Or

By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

It was particularly fitting. On October 7th – 7/10 – it  was the number ‘7’, Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored first, and then Barcelona’s ’10’, Lionel Messi, who levelled. And for those who write their dates the other way around, Messi scored next, then Cristiano: 7/10 or 10/7 – whichever way you looked at it, it was all about these two.

It usually is. Before the game, Ronaldo was seeking a sixth successive strike in the Clasico to become the first player ever to achieve that stellar sequence (he was already the only Madrid man to net in four straight games at Camp Nou). Messi, meanwhile, needed three to draw level with Alfredo Di Stefano as the all-time top goalscorer in this famous fixture.

This was a game billed as one that could decide the 2012 Fifa Ballon d’Or but, 90 minutes later and the worthy winner this year to football’s most prestigious individual award is less clear than before. Surely, on this evidence, they both deserve to win it.

Ronaldo slid an angled drive past Victor Valdes to make it 1-0 to Madrid in a first half in which the visitors gave as good as they got but, after Karim Benzema and Angel Di Maria had contrived to miss a glorious chance to extend their lead, Messi took advantage of some poor Pepe defending to blast home an equaliser.

That was a significant psychological blow in favour of the home side and the tide appeared to be turning after the interval, particularly when Messi curled home an exquisite free kick to make it 2-1. It wasn’t so long ago that it was said he couldn’t cut it from such set pieces, but that was the second stunner he has fizzed past Iker Casillas already this term. Sensational.

But Ronaldo wasn’t finished, either, and the Portuguese latched onto a lovely through-ball from Mesut Ozil to slide home a clinical finish which made it all square. Barcelona 2-2 Real Madrid; there was nothing to choose between the two teams – nor was there anything between their finest footballers.

Barcelona pressed in the latter stages but could not find a winner, so Messi ended the night with 17 Clasico strikes, one short of the record at the age of just 25, while Cristiano now has 10 goals to his name in the famous fixture. Soon, these two will be one and two on the list – don’t doubt it.

In La Liga, Barca remain eight points clear of Madrid, but the Catalans were unable to secure a seventh straight win at the beginning of a Primera Division season for the first time in their history.

And although they were unable to close the gap, Madrid will take heart from this result, from the performance, and from Cristiano.

The Portuguese has eight in La Liga, and 14 overall this season, two more than Messi, but there is really nothing to choose between the two. As Jordi Cruyff told in an interview published on Sunday morning, Leo and Cristiano are “light years” ahead of everyone else. And they have now carved their names forever into the history of this magical match-up.

In a classic Clasico on Sunday, two legends lit up the night and when the Ballon d’Or voting comes around later this year, picking the winner will be almost impossible. While the rest of the competition will be fighting for third place, there is so little to separate Messi and Ronaldo that these two superhumans almost deserve to share the top prize.

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Barcelona 2-2 Real Madrid: Messi & Ronaldo exchange strikes in enthralling Clasico

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were both in scintilating form as Barcelona and Real Madrid played out an enthralling 2-2 draw at Camp Nou in the first Liga Clasico of this season.

Despite coming as just the seventh fixture of the season, the match was touted as having a potentially huge impact on the final Liga outcome. With Madrid in need of a win, Ronaldo got them off to the perfect start as he silenced the crowd with his sixth consecutive Clasico goal.

But a brace from Messi, including a sumptuous second-half free kick, put the Blaugrana in the driving seat. However, the last had not been heard of Ronaldo and he capitalised on a disorganised defence to equalise 25 minutes from time.

After all the intense build-up, the first surprise of the night was sprung as news filtered through that in the absence of Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol, Adriano would start alongside Javier Mascherano in the centre of defence. Mourinho, meanwhile, opted for Karim Benzema and Mesut Ozil ahead of Gonzalo Higuain and Mesut Ozil.

The teams were greeted on the pitch by a cacophony of noise and a sea of Catalan red and yellow in the stands and the match began in a similarly hectic manner, but Los Blancos‘ more adventurous tendencies when in possession saw them gradually take hold of the game.

After Benzema snatched at a volley in the 13th minute, Barca’s defensive frailties began to really show six minutes later as Sergio Ramos rose, unmarked, to meet Ozil’s corner. His header had pace and Victor Valdes, who was rooted to the spot, breathed a sigh of relief when it shaded the outside of his post.

Despite enjoying a large share of possession, the hosts began to sit deep and invite Mourinho’s men onto them, and they were punished in the 23rd minute. A brilliant flowing move, initiated by Ozil on the right, ended with Benzema slipping the ball to Ronaldo who thumped a low shot past Valdes at his near post.

Madrid continued to slice apart the hosts’ makeshift defence with ease and they should have doubled their lead in the 25th minute. Benzema once more found space in the area but his shot cannoned back off the post and Angel Di Maria was unable to convert the rebound.

Yet the Blaugrana were unperturbed at the other end of the pitch and they secured an equaliser when Pedro’s cross looped into the air following a pair of deflections. In his eagerness to head the ball away, Pepe misjudged the flight of the ball and Messi, who was lurking in the box, beat Iker Casillas as it dropped behind the defender and fired into the back of the net.

The Catalan giants drew confidence from that goal and after being denied a penalty early in the second half, they took the lead for the first time on the night with a moment of sheer, unadulterated class from Messi. The mercurial Argentine flighted a beautifully-struck 30-yard free kick over the wall and into the top corner with 61 minutes on the clock.

Not to be outdone though, Ronaldo notched his second of the night just five minutes later. After being jeered by the home crowd for missing an overhead kick, the 27-year-old caught the Barca defence completely unawares to slot home from Ozil’s through-ball.

With the game so finely poised, neither team was willing to take the risk of committing too many men forward in search of a winner. But there was still time for some final moments of drama as Martin Montoya pushed on but saw his rocket of a strike come back off the crossbar in the 89th minute and Pedro drilled a low shot wide in stoppage time.

In sharing the spoils, Barcelona remain at the top of the table and also maintain their eight-point advantage over Madrid with seven games played so far this season.

Guardiola side better than Cruyff's, say Spain legends

Two legends of both Real Madrid and Barcelona have given their thoughts on the impact of the Blaugrana on modern football, with the latter of the pair hailing Pep Guardiola’s era as the greatest in the club’s history.

Pirri, who made a total 417 appearances for Real Madrid, spoke with Juan Manuel Asensi, who in turn made 299 outings for the Catalan outfit and the two agreed that the Barca side that has been assembled could be considered as the best ever.

“The club started with [Johan] Cruyff, and then Guardiola’s team eclipsed everything,” he stated.

Pirri, who agreed with his former international team-mate, suggested that the recent turmoil, and arguments between Madrid and the Blaugrana should be forgotten as he commented on his personal friendship with Asensi years on from their footballing rivalry.

The former Real Madrid star said: “The good atmosphere between the clubs was proof that we were friends beyond the colours, and in a way, because of the colours.”

BREAKING NEWS: Ronaldo becomes first player to score in six straight Clasicos

Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo has become the first player to score in six consecutive Clasicos.

The 27-year-old opened the scoring in the 23rd minute minute at Camp Nou with a powerful left-footed drive after latching on to a Karim Benzema cross.

The previous record of five, which Ronaldo matched in the 2-1 win over Barca in August, was held by Chilean striker Ivan Zamorano, who represented Los Blancos between 1992 and 1996.

During his Clasico career, the fomer Manchester United winger has netted nine goals against the Blaugrana, six goals behind Lionel Messi, who has scored a total of 15 times against the Catalans’ arch-rivals.

Of the five previous last matches against Barca during which Ronaldo has found the net, he has ended up on the losing team three times, though he did find the target in last year’s Liga win at Camp Nou.

Ronaldo will be hoping that his strike will help Jose Mourinho’s side close the gap on Tito Vilanova’s men to just five points.

TEAM NEWS: Song left out as Pedro and Cesc start for Barca in Clasico clash

Adriano starts in defence for Barcelona against Real Madrid, after Gerard Pique failed to prove his fitness to boss Tito Vilanova ahead of this evening’s Clasico.

The 25-year-old Spain international picked up an ankle injury against Spartak Moscow on September 19, and despite completing training with the rest of the first-team yesterday, was deemed unfit to be involved tonight by Vilanova.

Elsewhere the Catalan giants line up as expected, with Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Busquets and Xavi completing a midfield three and Andres Iniesta and Pedro operating either side of Lionel Messi up front.

Iniesta starts his first match since September 12, after picking up an adductor muscle injury while on international duty nearly a month ago.

While Vilanova has had to shuffle his squad, with Pique, Carlos Puyol, Eric Abidal, Isaac Cuenca and Thiago Alcantara all on the sidelines, Madrid come into the match with a full set of players at coach Jose Mourinho’s disposal.

The debate surrounding who would start out of Mesut Ozil, Luka Modric and Kaka in attacking midfield has been resolved, with Los Blancos’ Portuguese trainer opting to play Ozil alongside Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo in an attacking three supporting lone striker Karim Benzema.

Marcelo continues at left-back for the away side, while Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira start in defensive midfield in Mourinho’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation.

Barcelona (4-3-3):
Valdes; Alves, Adriano, Mascherano, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Fabregas; Iniesta, Messi, Pedro

Subs: Pinto, Montoya, Bartra, Song, Sergi Roberto, Alexis, Villa

Real Madrid (4-2-3-1): Casillas; Arbeloa, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo; Khedira, Alonso; Ozil, Cristiano, Di Maria, Benzema

Subs: Adan, Coentrao, Kaka, Essien, Albiol, Modric, Higuain