From Ronaldo calming Camp Nou to Messi's iconic shirt celebration: The best Clasico moments of the 21st century
There are few matchups like El Clasico. Perennial La Liga superpowers Real Madrid and Barcelona truly despise each other, and always produce some of the best and most heated matchups in Europe.
It helps, of course, that the two sides always have some of the best players in the world. We've been spoiled by Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo, there's been Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo Nazario, Xavi, Iniesta and all the rest.
Clasico matches yielded one of Messi's finest moment in club football, Jose Mourinho's most resounding defeat and some baffling fan antics have added to the intrigue.
The two teams will meet again in the Copa del Rey semi-finals on Thursday, and though Messi and Ronaldo won't light up this fixture again, there will still be some of the most exciting young players in world football on show. It remains a game not to be missed.
So as anticipation builds once again, GOAL takes a look at 10 of the most iconic Clasico moments of the 21st century.
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Figo and the pig's head (2002)
Throwing missiles at players while taking corners is not a new concept. All too often, players are pelted with coins, water bottles, or worse.
But in 2002, a particularly odd object was hurtled from the stands above Luis Figo. As the Madrid player prepared to take a corner in front of a wall of Barca fans, one zealous supporter threw a pig's head at his feet.
It was Figo's second appearance at Camp Nou since switching from Barca to Real Madrid in 2000, so it's understandable that tensions were high. But the specific choice of throwing object was an odd one. Shortly after the incident, tensions flared in the stands and the referee suspended the match for 15 minutes. The remainder of the game was forgettable, but the incident will be remembered forever.
A standing ovation for Ronaldinho (2005)
In 1983, Diego Maradona earned a standing ovation at the Bernabeu following a typically captivating display, the stadium rising to their feet to acknowledge one of the best ever.
Twenty-two years later, another Barcelona player received a similar acknowledgment. Ronaldinho was enjoying his best years in a Barca shirt at the time, the attacker at his brilliant, skillful best. And on that November night, matched up against a 20-year-old Sergio Ramos, he delivered a performance for the ages.
He was actually kept relatively quiet for the first half, with Samuel Eto'o opening the scoring after receiving a pass from a young Messi before slotting home. And then, in the second half, Ronaldinho exploded. There was, of course, the iconic goal. The Brazilian started on the halfway line, slipped through a helpless Real defence and then beat Casillas at his near post.
He added a second later on and, as he careened off in celebration, the packed Bernabeu rose to their feet in applause, a slightly begrudging acknowledgment of one of the all-time great Clasico performances.
Guardiola's Barca at their best (2010)
Rarely are derbies as lopsided as this. And what a joy to watch this one was. Barcelona were at their scintillating best, dominating possession and simply tearing Madrid apart.
The build-up to the game was dominated by the talk of Madrid's form. New manager Mourinho had subverted talk of his defensive style, setting up his side in a devastating attacking manner. The game before, they had thrashed Racing Santander 6-1, putting everything in place for a high-scoring affair.
And it certainly was. But only for one team. Barca scored twice inside the opening 18 minutes, and then added three more shortly after half-time in an iconic 5-0 win. Strangely, Messi didn't score any of the five, although he set up David Villa, twice, pulling the strings from his false nine role.
After the match, a crestfallen Mourinho admitted that his team were outclassed.
"We played very, very badly and they were fantastic. We gifted them two goals that were bordering on ridiculous. It is our own fault," he said.
Ronaldo wins the Copa del Rey (2011)
Ronaldo probably should have scored a hat-trick in this one. He had three chances in the first half, missing one and seeing two kept out by back-up Barca goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto.
But in extra-time, with the game level at 0-0, Ronaldo didn't miss. It was one of those headers from the Portuguese where he appears to levitate, springing high over any centre-back who dares jump with him. His contact was perfect, the ball fired past a helpless Pinto.
That goal won Madrid the Copa del Rey, and represented something of a turning point in Mourinho's tenure. The Portuguese had taken over the summer before, and had often been criticised for his big-game tactics, highlighted by a 5-0 embarrassment in his first Clasico as the Madrid boss. But here, Ronaldo silenced any critics of his manager to help deliver a trophy.
- Getty Images
THAT Busquets assist (2011)
Never has a player provided a more simple assist for a legendary goal. Messi produced one of his best performances in a Clasico in the 2011 Champions League semi-final, scoring twice in the second half to give his side a 2-0 win at the Bernabeu.
His second goal was a thing of beauty, with Busquets rolling the ball to Messi before the Argentine went on an iconic run, taking three players out of the game and poking it past Iker Casillas with his right foot. It was one of the best goals in Clasico history and gave Busquets his easiest assist in recent memory.
Messi has been snatching Real Madrid's soul forever 😵pic.twitter.com/MShlPhKbVc— GOAL (@goal) April 4, 2020
Mourinho pokes Vilanova in the eye (2011)
No Clasico is ever unimportant, but the Spanish Super Cup encounter in August 2011 really shouldn't have been that significant. Still, with Mourinho in the technical area, anything can happen.
That was certainly the case here. After Messi buried a late winner, the two sides clashed in front of the dugouts. And amid the chaos, Mourinho walked up to Barca assistant Tito Vilanova and poked the confused coach in the eye.
Despite protests from Barcelona, the referee failed to see the incident, and in pre-VAR era, nothing could be done. Mourinho issued an apology to Madrid fans after the game, but, notably, showed no remorse for having jabbed Vilanova.
He was handed a two-game suspension for his antics and didn't apologise until many years later, saying: "I shouldn't have done what I did. Of course not, that negative image stays forever. Tito had nothing to do with it. I apologise to him."
Ronaldo calms Camp Nou (2012)
Before Ronaldo perfected his now-famous "siiiii" celebration, he coined another classic.
CR7 produced one of his best Clasico performances in 2012, scoring the winner in a 2-1 win at Camp Nou. It was a signature finish from the Portuguese, whacked into the net from an acute angle.
And as he turned away in celebration, he produced the memorable "calma" celebration, urging 90,000 Barcelona fans to relax with the swagger of a man who knew he'd just all-but-won his team the Liga title.
Bale runs off pitch to win Copa del Rey (2014)
Seriously, how did it occur to Gareth Bale that this was possible?
With five minutes remaining in the Copa del Rey final, with Barca and Real Madrid deadlocked at 1-1, Bale did something that didn't quite seem possible within the confines of a football pitch - mostly because he stepped off the grass to do so.
He recovered the ball just short of the halfway line, and with his first touch, sent the ball spinning around Marc Bartra into 30 yards of space. But as Bartra shifted over to block Bale's run, the Madrid winger simply continued his stride off the pitch, scampering through Barca's technical area before beating the defender to the ball with three metres to spare.
The rest was equally impressive, as the Welshman shrugged off Bartra and poked the ball home to finish one of the most improbable goals in Clasico history.
Messi's iconic shirt celebration (2017)
On April 24, 2017, Messi accepted a forgivable booking.
It resulted from one of the most iconic sequences in Clasico history. The Argentine was simply floating 40 yards from goal when Barca started a counter-attack, seemingly disinterested as the Blaugrana pushed for a 92nd-minute goal. But as Barca swept the ball up the left wing, Messi ghosted to the centre. Jordi Alba's pass was perfect, a cut-back to the edge of the box, and the No.10 took it in his stride before whipping the ball past Courtois.
The goal, although brilliant, is forgotten due to what happened after. Messi ripped his shirt off, ran to the Real Madrid fans, and held his name and number aloft in celebration, a rare taunt from a modest superstar.
✅ A dramatic late winner.— LaLiga English (@LaLigaEN) April 23, 2021
✅ An iconic celebration. #OnThisDay in 2017, Messi was decisive in #ElClasico at the Santiago Bernabeu! 💙🌟❤️#LaLigaSantander pic.twitter.com/b6UFmC7pGt
Suarez hat-trick sends Barca top (2018)
Suarez's numbers against Real Madrid were remarkable. The Uruguayan always seemed to find his best form in these games, and it showed in October 2018, with Suarez bagging only the fourth hat-trick to ever be scored in a Clasico in a dominant 5-1 win.
The striker didn't enjoy the easiest first half, despite burying a penalty to give his side a 2-0 lead inside 30 minutes. But in the second, he found his brilliant best, scoring a header before sealing his hat-trick with a delightful dink over a sprawling Thibaut Courtois.
It was made all the more remarkable given the Blaugrana were without the injured Messi, and the result dumped Real Madrid into ninth (!) place in the table.