Madrid, April 24 (IANS) Lionel Messi scored a goal in virtually the last second of the game to give FC Barcelona a thrilling 3-2 win away to Real Madrid and blow the race for the Spanish football league title wide open.
The result here on Sunday night leaves Barcelona level on points with Real Madrid at the top of the table, although Madrid have played a game less.
A win for the home side would have virtually assured them the league title with five matches left to play, and as early as the first minute there was controversy as Ral Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo went down after a challenge from Samuel Umtiti in the Barcelona penalty area.
However, television replays showed that the Real Madrid striker greatly exaggerating the contact.
A fit Gareth Bale was back in the Madrid side with Isco forced to drop down to the substitute’s bench and Paco Alcacer replaced the suspended Neymar in the Barcelona line-up as expected.
There was a great atmosphere in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium as Madrid looked to dominate Barca, and their pressure was rewarded in the 28th minute when Casemiro put them ahead, bundling the ball over the goal line following a corner.
The lead lasted just five minutes before Messi levelled the scores. The Argentine, who moments earlier had needed treatment after being elbowed in the mouth by Marcelo, didn’t let that affect his balance as he swerved past Carvajal and fired past Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas from close to the penalty spot.
The pace didn’t drop off, and Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric forced a fine save from Barcelona custodian Ter Stegen.
Moments later, Bale was forced off with a muscle injury and was replaced by Marco Asensio.
Casemiro was lucky to remain on the pitch after being booked and in light of how the referee turned a blind eye to two poor challenges before the break.
Both keepers had to be at their best at the start of the second half with Ter Stegen saving from Real Madrid’s Tony Kroos and Navas denying Paco Alcacer, before Ronaldo missed a golden chance to score following a swift Madrid break.
Barca took the lead through Ivan Rakitic who scored with a wonderful left foot shot from 20 yards out which left Navas helpless with just 17 minutes left on the clock.
Madrid were then reduced to 10 men when central defender Sergio Ramos was sent off for a horrendous challenge on Messi, although his reaction as he left the field implied that he disagreed with the decision.
Madrid refused to surrender, and Messi nearly made it 3-1 with a powerful shot which Navas saved brilliantly.
It looked as if the game was Barca’s, but James Rodriguez, who had replaced Karim Benzema a few minutes previously, equalised with a left foot shot following a Marcelo cross.
It looked as if the game would end in a 2-2 draw which would have maintained Madrid’s lead, but Messi got on the end of a surging counter-attack to sweep the ball home and to throw the title race wide open once again.