MADRID: French youngster Raphael Varane headed in a late goal as Real Madrid salvaged a 1-1 draw against bitter rivals Barcelona in their Spanish Cup semifinal first leg clash on Wednesday night.
Cesc Fabregas had given Barca the lead at the Santiago Bernabeu in a game his side looked to be running away with until the leveller.
Varane was Madrid’s star all evening, clearing off the line in the first half and making countless other defensive interventions in an entertaining encounter.
With the second leg almost a month away, Madrid, who trail Barca by 15 points in the league, will be relieved to avoid defeat and will now look to the Champions League last-16 first leg against Manchester United in the same stadium in less than two weeks.
Madrid assistant coach Aitor Karanka highlighted Varane’s performance.
“He had a great game, after saving us a few times he gets the equalizer and it will do him good, he is only 19 and this will be good for his progress with us,” he said.
With Barca coach Tito Vilanova in New York receiving further cancer treatment, assistant Jordi Roura took the reins and thought his side could have won it.
Jose Mourinho earlier decided to partner Varane and Ricardo Carvalho in the center of a depleted defense, with Sergio Ramos and Fabio Coentrao out through suspension and Pepe injured.
At right back Michael Essien was favored over Marcelo, just back from injury, and Diego Lopez was called up for his debut in goal after he signed from Sevilla last Friday to replace the injured Iker Casillas.
Barca had far fewer problems and Jose Manuel Pinto in his customary position in goal for the Spanish Cup for Victor Valdes was their only change.
United moves seven clear
In London, Wayne Rooney maintained Manchester United’s handy knack of overturning deficits with two goals as the leaders beat Southampton 2-1 at Old Trafford to move seven points clear in the Premier League on Wednesday night.
Champions Manchester City’s 0-0 draw at bottom club Queens Park Rangers 24 hours earlier paved the way for United to widen the gap but Jay Rodriguez silenced the home crowd after three minutes before Rooney’s double restored order before halftime.
Apart from Everton, the clubs battling for top-four finishes and Champions League qualification suffered frustration, none more so than third-placed Chelsea who threw away a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 at struggling Reading for whom substitute Adam Le Fondre struck twice in the closing stages.
Chelsea remain four points clear of Tottenham Hotspur who needed a superb Gareth Bale equalizer in a 1-1 draw at Norwich City while sixth-placed Arsenal drew 2-2 at home to Liverpool having trailed 2-0 with half an hour remaining.
Luis Suarez gave Liverpool an early lead and Jordan Henderson made it 2-0 on the hour after some terrible Arsenal defending but Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott earned the Gunners a deserved point from an entertaining clash.
Fifth-placed Everton cashed in on the dropped points of those around them in the table with a 2-1 home victory over West Bromwich Albion to move one point behind Tottenham, three clear of Arsenal and six ahead of Liverpool.
In a London derby alongside the River Thames Fulham beat West Ham United 3-1.