Barcelona, Real stalemate in politically-charged Clasico
Barcelona and Real Madrid could not be separated on Wednesday in a Clasico that was briefly interrupted by Catalan independence protests, when dozens of yellow beach balls were thrown onto the pitch at Camp Nou.
After being postponed in October, there were renewed fears of unrest around Spain’s most famous fixture.
Protestors held banners, waved flags and even threw inflatable beach balls.
However, although serious disruption inside the ground never materialised, there were clashes outside.
Twelve people were injured when police charged hundreds of masked protesters who set garbage bins on fire, according to emergency services.
The protesters, many of them carrying Catalan separatist flags, began setting up barricades in the middle of the street which they then set on fire, after police arrived in dozens of police vans.
The match was less eventful than expected, with neither side ever really at their best and both, perhaps in the end, happier not to win than to lose.
A goalless draw means Barcelona stay top of La Liga, ahead of Real on goal difference while the historic score in league meetings between the two rivals remains 72 victories apiece.
Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos both made clearances off the line in the first half but the best chance arguably fell to Lionel Messi, only for the Argentinian to uncharacteristically scuff his finish.
“More than a Clasico”, read the frontpage of Barcelona daily Mundo Deportivo on Wednesday morning ahead of a fixture that while always politically charged, had assumed even greater significance than usual.
The game was originally due to be played on October 26 and the 53 days since seemed only to swell expectations around what Democratic Tsunami, the Catalan independence protest group, might do to disturb the most watched club match in the world.
Yet in truth, there was less than expected.
Only in the 55th minute of the second half was the game paused for a minute as stewards ran on to collect dozens of yellow beach balls that had been thrown onto the pitch.
– Bale ‘goal’ ruled out –
Blue banners bearing the slogan of Democratic Tsunami: ‘Spain, sit and talk’, were also held up.
Four hours before kick-off, thousands had gathered at all four corners of the stadium to hold the same blue banners and wave Catalan flags, while some blocked traffic too.
Both teams had departed from the same hotel and aside from whistles and insults directed at the Madrid team bus, both arrived without incident. Club president Florentino Perez gave a thumbs up as he walked in.
Gareth Bale was last to get off, by which time he might have known he was starting for the first time in four matches. Ramos played in his 43rd Clasico, a record for any player in history.
For Barcelona, Sergio Busquets was included in the line-up first announced before he was swapped out for Ivan Rakitic. Barca claimed it had been a communication error.
If it was, it was not the first mistake of the night, with a frantic first half full of them.
Real were the better side in the opening half an hour although Luis Suarez might have scored early had he controlled Jordi Alba’s cross at the back post.
There was a goalline clearance at both ends as Casemiro’s header bounced up and had to be hooked away by Pique before Thibaut Courtois punched out to Messi but his shot was blocked by Ramos.
Karim Benzema and Fede Valverde both tested Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Jordi Alba wanted a penalty for a Dani Carvajal handball but VAR was unmoved. Raphael Varane had a better case at the other end after having his shirt pulled by Alba.
Ten minutes into the second half, stewards ran on to collect the beach balls and shortly after, Barcelona twice should have scored, only for Messi and Suarez both to fluff finishes in quick succession.
Bale grazed the side-netting and the excellent Frenkie de Jong drove at Courtois after a neat one-two.
Bale then did score with 15 minutes left but his provider Ferland Mendy was a fraction offside. Neither team wanted to go for broke in the latter stages.