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Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2009

Barcelona takes down Real Madrid in 'Clasico'

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored four minutes after coming on as a substitute Sunday to lead Barcelona to a 1-0 victory over Real Madrid and send the defending champion to the top of the Spanish League standings.

News photo
Swede success: Barcelona's Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates his goal against Real Madrid on Sunday. AP PHOTO

Moments after Barcelona's defense had denied a Gonzalo Higuain effort, Daniel Alves found Ibrahimovic at the far post with a lofted cross in the 56th minute and the Sweden striker never broke stride as he volleyed past Iker Casillas with his left foot in the highly anticipated Spanish "Clasico" match.

"Dani gave me a good cross, I just tried to hit the ball and it went in," Ibrahimovic said. "It's a very happy moment because it was my first 'Clasico.' "

Barcelona was then reduced to 10 men in the 63rd minute with a red card for Sergio Busquets, but the European champions battled on before the numbers were evened up by a 90th minute red card for Lassana Diarra.

Cristiano Ronaldo, making his first start in two months, had Madrid's best chance in the 20th minute, but was denied by Victor Valdes. Ronaldo's replacement, Karim Benzema, fired over the top with only Valdes to beat in the 80th minute.

"It was a very even game, and we had our chances," Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini said. "We just didn't take advantage. I think we at least deserved a draw."

Barcelona leads the standings with 30 points, overtaking Madrid on 28. Sevilla is third with 26, followed by Valencia and Deportivo La Coruna, who are both on 25 points.

Ibrahimovic, who replaced Thierry Henry in the 52nd minute, let out a cry of "Vamos!" ("Let's Go!") as nearly 100,000 fans roared at the Nou Camp after the European champion's record signing marked his return from a hamstring injury with his eighth goal of the season.

"He changed the game," Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said of his 45 million euro ($65 million) transfer, that also included Samuel Eto'o going to Inter Milan.

The elation came just after Carles Puyol had blocked Higuain's shot.

Ronaldo, who was returning from an ankle injury, threatened throughout before marking his exit in the 66th with a glancing header that went over the top.

But the Portugal winger will remember his early chance when Valdes stuck a leg out to save his shot from the right side of the area following an impressive setup by Kaka.

"We had a lot of chances, above all with Cristiano Ronaldo in the first half," Casillas said. "But we lacked accuracy."

Still, Ronaldo made an impact in his first Spanish League showdown with Lionel Messi, who is favored to take the player of the year awards from Ronaldo next month. Casillas denied Messi from close range in the 89th, sticking his left leg out to thwart the Argentina forward's best chance.

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