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Messi Leads Barcelona Past Real in Champions League Semifinal

April 28 (Bloomberg) -- Lionel Messi scored twice in the final 14 minutes to lead Barcelona past 10-man Real Madrid 2-0 in their Champions League soccer semifinal opener.

Messi lifted his season goal tally to 52 last night at the Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid as the archrivals met for the third time in 12 days. The scores came after Real Madrid defender Pepe was sent off in the 61st minute with one of the three red and five yellow cards handed out by referee Wolfgang Stark.

“They didn’t want to play football and I think we deserved to win,” Barcelona defender Gerard Pique said in a televised interview. “We are really happy for the win and have taken a good step toward the final.”

Barcelona, which hosts the return match May 3, is aiming to win Europe’s elite club competition for the fourth time and third since 2006. The Catalan club joins Manchester United in securing a 2-0 advantage on the road to open the two-game series.

In addition to Pepe, Real will be without Sergio Ramos in Barcelona next week after the right back got a yellow card early in the second half. Real is seeking to reach its first final since winning its record ninth title in 2002.

“We were already talking about a difficult game in Barcelona, now it’s mission impossible,” Real manager Jose Mourinho, who was also ejected, told reporters.

Mourinho’s team drew 1-1 with Barcelona in the Spanish league on April 16 before winning 1-0 after extra time in the Copa del Rey final four days later.

Early Chances

Barcelona’s David Villa shot wide with the first chance in the 11th minute last night and Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas saved from Xavi Hernandez, who also shot over the bar.

Tempers began to flare late in the first half as Real’s Alvaro Arbeloa received a yellow card for blocking off Pedro Rodriguez and Barcelona’s Dani Alves was booked for fouling Angel di Maria.

Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes knocked away Cristiano Ronaldo’s shot from 30 yards (27 meters) just before halftime. The teams were then separated, with the help of local police, as they left the field with Jose Pinto, Barcelona’s reserve goalkeeper, being red carded for his part in the incident.

Messi had a chance in the opening minute of the second half which Ramos blocked and Ronaldo chased down a long ball only to have his shot intercepted by Carles Puyol.

Ramos received his yellow card in the 53rd minute and Barcelona’s Javier Mascherano was booked moments later. Pepe was then ejected for his foot-first challenge on Alves, Real’s fourth red card in four matches against Barcelona this season.

Mourinho Sees Red

Mourinho was sent to the stands in the aftermath after talking at length with the fourth official on the sideline. Ronaldo headed Xabi Alonso’s free kick over the crossbar once play resumed and Casillas stopped Villa’s shot, with Pedro heading the rebound wide.

Messi finally gave Barcelona the lead in the 76th minute when he tapped in Ibrahim Afellay’s cross from the right. He then clinched the win with three minutes left by picking the ball up 40 yards from goal, slaloming past five defenders and sliding a shot beyond Casillas.

It was Messi’s 11th goal in the Champions League this season, putting him within one of Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record haul of 12 goals for Manchester United in 2002-03.

United beat Schalke 2-0 two days ago and will host the return match at Old Trafford on May 4. The final will be played May 28 at Wembley Stadium in London.

“It is very difficult to turn a 2-0 score around away from home, but anything can happen in football,” Ronaldo told Real’s website. “We will fight in Barcelona.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Bob Bensch in London at bbensch@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Elser at celser@bloomberg.net

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