A thumping late header from Raphael Varane has earned Real Madrid a 1-1 draw in their Copa del Rey semi-final first leg against Barcelona.
Varane’s 81st-minute header ensured Real head to Barcelona for the second leg on February 26 on equal terms after Cesc Fabregas had put the Catalan visitors ahead in the 50th minute.
Madrid were without five first-team regulars for their fourth Clasico of the season, as Iker Casillas and Pepe missed out because of injury, while the likes of Sergio Ramos, Fabio Coentrao and Angel Di Maria were all absent through suspension.
Barcelona, meanwhile, named a full-strength starting line-up.
Despite all their missing men it was the home side that made the brighter start at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Within a minute of kick-off Cristiano Ronaldo was charging at the heart of the Barcelona defence and his driving run towards goal was only stopped by a cynical challenge from Gerard Pique.
The Portuguese attacker took the set piece himself and forced Barcelona goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto into a fine diving save.
Barcelona had the next three major chances of the match with Andres Iniesta cleverly setting up Jordi Alba only for the left-back to volley wide before Xavi curled a free-kick onto the crossbar with Real Madrid goalkeeper Diego Lopez beaten.
Xavi then had a goal-bound shot cleared off the line by Varane after Lionel Messi picked up Ricardo Carvalho’s poor back-pass to set up the Barcelona captain and somehow the first half finished scoreless.
Just five minutes after half-time, the visitors took the lead when Fabregas clinically side-footed the ball past Lopez after being played in by Messi, who had stolen the ball from Xabi Alonso.
Varane denied Fabregas soon after with a well-timed challenge as the Barcelona midfielder looked certain to double his team’s lead.
With nine minutes left plus stoppage time and Barcelona seemingly happy to hold out for a 1-0 win, Varane produced the key moment for the home team, rising highest to send an emphatic header into the net from Mesut Oezil’s free-kick.