Argentina’s two-time world player of the year Lionel Messi scored a superb late brace as Barcelona gained the upper hand in their Champions League semifinal with a 2-0 first leg win over arch rivals Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday.
Real were down to ten men after Pepe had been sent off on the hour mark and Barca made the extra man count with Messi converting an Ibrahim Afellay cross on 76 minutes and then scored a mesmerising goal on 86 minutes for his 11th Champions League goal of the season.
Messi has now scored on each of his last four visits to the Bernabeu and the late goals are a huge setback for Real coach Jose Mourinho, who was sent to the stands for protesting the dismissal of Pepe.
Madrid must now pull off a miracle and win well at Camp Nou in the second leg on May 3 if they are to reach their first final since 2002.
“Another miracle with ten men wasn’t possible,” said an angry Mourinho. “Yes, I think we are eliminated. We will go to Camp Nou with everything and to get a result but I can’t see it.
“We will be without Pepe and (Sergio) Ramos who didn’t do anything and neither did I. I just want to know why? Why did Pepe get sent off? I just want someone to explain. Why did it happen?”
For Barcelona it was the perfect revenge after their Kings Cup loss a week ago and they will aim to finish the job at home and reach their first final since 2009 when they won the trophy as part of a historic treble.
A war of words had spiced up this red-hot fixture further with the usually calm Pep Guardiola hitting out at Mourinho and expressed his annoyance at being called ‘Pep’ by his Portuguese counterpart.
Barcelona, eight points above Real in the league, were still hurting from their Kings Cup final defeat and were allowed to dominate possession as Real sat deep in the third meeting between the two sides in just 12 days.
David Villa had the first sight on goal cutting inside before dispatching a shot just wide of the post in the 10th minute.
Jeers from home fans rung around the Bernabeu as Real followers were unhappy at Barcelona’s control of the ball and the visitors almost scored in the 24th minute with Messi sliding in Xavi but Iker Casillas saved well with his legs.
On the stroke of half-time Madrid had their first chance with Ronaldo’s fierce drive fumbled by Victor Valdes.
A row between Seydou Keita and Alvaro Arbeloa continued as the players left the field and Barcelona’s second choice goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto was sent off from the substitutes bench for losing his cool in a melee.
Early in the second half Messi had a half chance as Real were caught sleeping but his shot was blocked in the area.
Cristiano Ronaldo then caused problems at the other end with Puyol making up for his initial mistake with a fine block.
On the hour mark Real were reduced to ten men with Pepe red-carded for a late tackle on Dani Alves and joins Sergio Ramos in missing the return clash at Camp Nou.
Pepe lunged at Alves and was shocked not to see a yellow, as was Mourinho, who was sent to the stands for vehemently protesting.
Barcelona tried to capitalise on their extra man with Villa forcing a fingertip save from Casillas on 68 minutes.
Then on 76 minutes substitute Afellay crossed and Messi converted with a volley at the near post.
It was the first goal Real had conceded at home in the Champions League this season, but the second arrived ten minutes later with Messi running from deep at speed, evading two challenges before sliding a right-footed shot past Casillas.
It leaves Madrid with a mountain to climb against their arch rivals who have two crucial away goals and have already crushed Madrid 5-0 at home in the league this season.