Barcelona, Spain, Dec 3 – Sergio Ramos’s stoppage-time equaliser maintained Real Madrid’s six-point lead at the top of La Liga as the European champions salvaged a 1-1 draw at Barcelona in Saturday’s El Clasico.
Luis Suarez looked to have breathed new life into the title race when he headed home the opener from Neymar’s free-kick eight minutes into the second half.
Neymar and Lionel Messi then passed up huge chances to add to Barca’s advantage, and the hosts were made to pay when Real captain Ramos met Luka Modric’s free-kick with a powerful header to stretch Madrid’s unbeaten run in all competitions to 33 games.
“I have to once again highlight the heart of this team, they believed until the end and got the draw which is important,” said Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane.
Barca coach Luis Enrique lamented his side’s luck, but also blamed a lack of efficiency in front of goal as, for a fourth time in seven home league games, the Catalans dropped points.
“The performance of the team was better than the opponent in my opinion. Football has been unfair to us,” said Enrique.
“It is a huge blow for all of us but we have only played 14 games in the league and there is a long way to go.
“We have to improve our performance and get better results, especially at home, because we are miles off where we want to be.”
Before kick-off both sides came together to pay homage to the 71 victims that wiped out almost the entirety of Brazilian side Chapecoense’s squad in a plane crash in Colombia earlier in the week.
However, once the action got underway old hostilities were renewed as Madrid screamed for a penalty less than two minutes in.
Lucas Vazquez went down under Javier Mascherano’s challenge, but referee Carlos Clos Gomez waved play on.
Barcelona enjoyed the majority of possession, but with captain Andres Iniesta left on the bench on his return from a two-month injury layoff, lacked the creativity to break down Madrid before the break.
At the other end the spotlight was on Cristiano Ronaldo more than ever in the absence of the injured Gareth Bale and following allegations of grand scale tax avoidance published by a series of European media organisations on Saturday.
The Portuguese came to life towards the end of the first-half as he had Madrid’s first shot on target that was turned behind by Marc-Andre ter Stegen eight minutes before half-time and the German stood firm to deny another driven Ronaldo effort moments later.
– Suarez strikes –
However, Barca started the second-half on the front foot and got the goal they badly needed to kickstart their title defence when Neymar’s free-kick from the left found Suarez somehow unmarked to head home from point blank range.
Iniesta was then introduced to a hero’s welcome and teed up Neymar for a huge chance to seal the three points 21 minutes from time.
The Brazilian skipped past Dani Carvajal, but blasted over the bar with the goal at his mercy.
Iniesta then produced a sublime pass to lay the chance Messi had been waiting for all afternoon on a plate, but the Argentine pulled his effort wide of the far post with just Navas to beat.
And Barca were made to pay for their profligacy as Ramos rose unmarked to power home Modric’s free-kick as the game entered stoppage time to silence the Camp Nou.
Barca still had one final chance to snatch all three points, but Sergi Roberto’s looping header was cleared off the line as a first La Liga title in five seasons edged closer for Real.
A fine night for Real was rounded off as Atletico Madrid remain nine points back in fourth after being held to a 0-0 draw at home by Espanyol.
Indeed, the Champions League finalists were thankful to goalkeeper Jan Oblak for even a point as he made brilliant saves from Gerard Moreno and Leo Baptistao.
Third-placed Sevilla also slipped to defeat as Granada moved off the bottom with their first win of the season 2-1 at Nuevo Los Carmenes.