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 Goal.com 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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