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Guardiola Leads Barcelona Past Real to Champions League Final

Guardiola Leads Barcelona Past Real to European Cup Final
FC Barcelona players lift teammate Eric Abidal in the air after defeating Real Madrid at the end of the UEFA Champions League Semi Final second leg match in Barcelona. Photographer: David Ramos/Getty Images

Coach Josep Guardiola led the celebrations after Barcelona beat archrival Real Madrid to a place in the Champions League final.

Barcelona advanced 3-1 over the two-game semifinal after last night’s 1-1 draw in front of 95,701 fans at Camp Nou stadium. Pedro Rodriguez scored for Barcelona before Marcelo tied it.

Guardiola’s team will play Manchester United or Schalke for the trophy at London’s Wembley Stadium on May 28. Players including FIFA World Player of the Year Lionel Messi and Spanish World Cup winners Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta are seeking Barca’s third elite European soccer title since 2006.

“We’ve had great successes, a lot of titles and they still want more,” Guardiola said in a news conference. “I’m really proud of them.”

Guardiola, wearing a black suit, and his team and officials locked arms and danced around the center circle to celebrate reaching the final.

The players also tossed teammate Eric Abidal in the air to celebrate. The France defender entered as a last-minute substitute, six weeks after having surgery on a tumor on his liver.

Last night’s game ended a series of four matches between Barcelona and Real Madrid that started April 16. The teams drew 1-1 in the Spanish league before Real won 1-0 in the Spanish Cup final ahead of this two-game semifinal.

“These last 20 days have been really hard, a lot of tension,” Guardiola said.

‘Showed Our Face’

As steady rain soaked fans and water-logged parts of the field last night, Pedro made it 1-0 after 53 minutes. He collected a defense-splitting pass by Andres Iniesta on the edge of the penalty area and fired in.

Marcelo leveled 10 minutes later, shooting in from Angel di Maria’s pass after the Argentine’s earlier shot had bounced back off the post.

“The team showed what it’s made off,” Real Madrid assistant coach Aitor Karanka told reporters. “Even in adverse conditions we showed our face.”

Karanka took charge of Real last night because coach Jose Mourinho was suspended.

Mourinho was sent to the stands for ironically applauding the decision to eject Pepe in last week’s opening game at Santiago Bernabeu stadium and later suggested Barcelona received favoritism. European soccer’s ruling body UEFA is scheduled to hold a hearing into Mourinho’s conduct and other disciplinary matters from that game on May 6.

Casillas Saves

Barcelona withstood early pressure from Real last night before dominating. Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas made three saves in six minutes to keep the game scoreless.

“We have to lift our heads and feel proud of what we did here,” Casillas told reporters. “We defended our colors and our club and we will go back to Madrid safe in the knowledge that we gave it our all.”

Casillas dived to parry Messi’s shot after 30 minutes. He pushed out a strike by David Villa after Messi had dispossessed Lassana Diarra and dribbled from the halfway line. He then saved again from Messi and Pedro went close with another shot.

Real’s best chance of the first half came on a counterattack by Cristiano Ronaldo. His cross, just out of reach of teammate Di Maria, was snatched by Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes in the penalty box.

Gonzalo Higuain had a goal ruled out a minute after half time when Ronaldo was judged to have fouled Javier Mascherano in the build-up to the shot.

Yellow Cards

Real defender Ricardo Carvalho got a yellow card from Belgian referee Frank de Bleeckere for fouling Messi with a foot-first challenge after 12 minutes and avoided a red card even after two similar fouls on the Argentine before the end of the first half.

Real had a player ejected in each of its previous four games against Barcelona and racked up five yellow cards last night to the host’s one.

Barcelona won the first of its three European titles at Wembley in 1992 by beating Italy’s Sampdoria 1-0 when Guardiola was a midfielder on the squad. The London stadium was reopened in 2007 after a redesign.

“It would be better if we could go to the old Wembley with the charisma it had,” Guardiola said. “But we’ll back all the same.”

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