Football

Malcom scores to Barca’s relief in Copa del Rey semis

Real Madrid gained a measure of redemption at the Nou Camp by holding Barcelona to a 1-1 draw yesterday morning (Singapore time) and taking the upper hand in the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey.

Neither Lionel Messi nor Gareth Bale was named in the starting line-ups for this first leg, but their replacements filled the void as Malcom's curling shot cancelled out an early opener from Lucas Vazquez.

After an impressive opening 20 minutes, Real were largely second best in a compelling, if unspectacular, El Clasico.

But the result leaves them well-placed heading into the second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu on Feb 27.

For Santiago Solari's side, a resilient, gutsy display will also help erase the memory of their humiliation at the Nou Camp in October, when they were thrashed 5-1, a result that caused Julen Lopetegui to be sacked the following day.

Messi, who had been struggling with a thigh problem, and Bale, who faces a fight for place after recovering from a calf injury, both came on after the hour but neither could inspire a winner.

Instead, it was Vazquez, and two youthful Brazilians who took centre stage. Vazquez scored but Vinicius Junior, the youngest Real player to feature in a Clasico this century, was his team's greatest threat until the 18-year-old departed in the second half.

Malcom was just as unpredictable and, in the end, it was the 21-year-old's intervention that kept Barca on level terms.

Barely 10 seconds had passed before Toni Kroos snapped into Ivan Rakitic, setting the tone for what was a dominant opening spell from Real.

Vinicius led the way. He was fearless, delivering moments of clarity when Real were at their most threatening.

He jinked inside Nelson Semedo and teed up Kroos before producing the cross that created the goal - an arching ball over the head of Jordi Alba, which Karim Benzema tucked back for Vazquez to poke in.

The home fans called Messi's name at the start of the second half and, when he jogged up the touchline shortly before the hour, they roared as if for a goal.

They did that soon too, after an equaliser. Navas rushed out to block Alba before Luis Suarez curled a shot that beat the diving Sergio Ramos but not the post.

It spilled to Malcom and, 20 metres out with white shirts in front, he found a gap. - AFP

Football