Lionel Messi kept his cool to swing the Champions League semifinal Barcelona’s way.
The World Player of the Year scored both goals as Barcelona won 2-0 after Real Madrid had Pepe red-carded at its Santiago Bernabeu stadium last night. Real coach Jose Mourinho was sent to the stands for ironically applauding a decision that he later called a “scandal.”
“Sometimes it disgusts me to live in this world of soccer,” Mourinho said in a news conference.
Barcelona’s backup goalkeeper Jose Pinto was also ejected for his part in a halftime fracas. The return match is at the Camp Nou in Barcelona on May 3 and the winner of the two-game series advances to play Manchester United or Schalke at Wembley Stadium in London on May 28. United also leads 2-0.
Messi took his goal tally to 52 this season -- 11 of them in the Champions League -- and became Barcelona’s third-highest scorer of all time at age 23 with 179 goals. Only Cesar Rodriguez and Ladislao Kubala, with 235 and 194 respectively, have scored more times for Barcelona.
“It’s frightening,” Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola told reporters. “At 23, to be the third-highest goal-scorer of a club that’s a century old.”
Messi’s double came after Pepe was ejected for a foot-first challenge on Daniel Alves, Real Madrid’s fourth red card in four matches against Barcelona this season.
“It was a key decision that changed the direction of the game,” Real midfielder Xabi Alonso told reporters. “We are frustrated. It changed everything.”
There were other flashpoints last night. Barcelona substitutes rushed off the bench to complain when Pedro Rodriguez was injured in a tussle with Alvaro Arbeloa.
Arbeloa argued with Seydou Keita as they left the field at halftime, leading to a fracas involving players and officials of both teams that resulted in Pinto getting red-carded.
Barcelona had 74 percent of the possession, and made 712 passes -- almost four times as many as Real -- although the Catalan team only scored after Real was reduced to 10 men.
Messi pounced to prod Ibrahim Afellay’s cross into the net after 76 minutes. He made it 2-0 with three minutes remaining, finishing past goalkeeper Iker Casillas after slaloming by four defenders in a 20-yard run.
“We stayed true to our game,” Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes told reporters. “We’re not to blame for anything” to do with Pepe’s red card, he added.
Mourinho said the game had been heading for a scoreless draw before Pepe’s ejection and German referee Wolfgang Stark’s decision had ended Real’s chances of reaching the final. Real will also be without Sergio Ramos in Barcelona after the right back got a yellow card early in the second half.
“We were already talking about a difficult game, now it is mission impossible,” Mourinho said.
The Real coach said he didn’t know whether Stark had wanted to give publicity to UNICEF, the children’s charity whose name Barcelona wears on its jerseys or to please UEFA, European soccer’s ruling body.
Barcelona said on its website it’s considering complaining about Mourinho’s comments to UEFA’s disciplinary committee.
It was the third game in 12 days between the archrivals. They drew 1-1 in the Spanish league on April 16 before Real Madrid won 1-0 to take the Copa del Rey last week. Barcelona won the European Cup for the third time in 2009, seven years after Real took the last of its record nine European soccer titles.
Guardiola said the semifinal isn’t over yet even if Mourinho says it is.
“A team with nine European Cups never gives up,” Guardiola said. “I have seen that many times, as a boy, as a player and as a coach.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Duff at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Elser at email@example.com