MADRID - Real Madrid are getting closer to challenging Barcelona's supremacy domestically and in Europe despite losing the Spanish Super Cup after an explosive second leg at the Nou Camp.
Barca's 5-4 aggregate win came courtesy of a dramatic 3-2 victory late on Wednesday night after 180 minutes of enthralling action with Lionel Messi scoring a spectacular late volley to seal victory in the season's curtain-raiser.
Once again, however, the 'clasico' ended in controversy with a melee on the pitch and three red cards. The ensuing war of words offered an indication that relations between the two rivals will continue to deteriorate as the season progresses.
The Super Cup represented barca coach Pep Guardiola's 11th trophy at the start of only his fourth season at the helm, putting him level with Johan Cruyff's club record set over eight years. However, there were signs that mischievous Real manager Jose Mourinho's long-term planning is starting to bear fruit.
"Madrid have lost their fear of playing Barca," said a commentary in daily El Pais, praising the way Real took the game to their hosts rather than defending deep like last season.
Yet while Real matched Barca in many departments they failed to contain World Player of the Year Messi.
The Argentine proved again he is perhaps the critical difference between the sides, scoring three and setting up two of the Catalans' five goals over the two legs.
"Messi, Messi once again, always Messi," wrote daily El Mundo. "It wasn't just the Super Cup that was in play, but global supremacy, the first blow to morale, honour, the desire to be the best."
Madrid had their chances to beat Barca, particularly in the first leg which they dominated, but will surely start the new season with a greater belief that they can challenge the European champions.
Unfortunately, the brawl sparked by Marcelo's lunging tackle on Cesc Fabregas at the end of Wednesday's game ensured the headlines were dominated by images of scuffling players and acrimonious accusations between the teams once again.
Real's players lined up to accuse Barca's of feigning injury and falling to the ground too easily, while their opponents spoke of the overly-aggressive approach of Mourinho's team.
The antics of the Real coach, who poked Guardiola's number two Tito Vilanova in the eye during the melee between the players, were caught on camera and could get him in trouble with the footballing authorities once again.
"We must be careful because we will cause harm, not on the field but off the field, and we're all a little responsible for this," Guardiola said after the match, as he commented on the unsavoury events in the Nou Camp.
The racist monkey chants that could be heard at the Bernabeu directed against Barca's Dani Alves, and at the Nou Camp against Real's Marcelo, are just one possible consequence of this increasing hostility between the two Spanish giants.
With six clasicos already played in 2011, the build-up to the year's final confrontation, when the sides meet in La Liga on the weekend of December 10-11, is already under way.comments