Varas brings Messi down to earth
Sevilla goalkeeper saves injury-time penalty to frustrate Barça forward
Iker Casillas, Pepe Reina, Victor Valdés, David de Gea - Spanish soccer is hardly short of goalkeeping talent. And to that list we might have to add the name of Sevilla shot-stopper Javi Varas after an incredible display against Barcelona at Camp Nou on Saturday night, which included saving a 91st-minute penalty from Leo Messi.
The match was that rare thing: a 0-0 tie where, for the neutral at least, a goal was the last thing to be desired following the heroic efforts of the Sevilla defense, and Varas especially, to keep Barcelona's normally ruthless attackers at bay. Only Andrés Iniesta succeeded in beating the leaping, parrying 28-year-old, but his second-half lob hit the crossbar.
It was Iniesta, too, whose questionable injury-time felling by Argentinean defender Federico Fazio resulted in the penalty and a red card for Frédéric Kanouté, who got mixed up in an angry tussle with Cesc Fàbregas after petulantly knocking the ball off the penalty spot.
And that wasn't quite the last of it: moments later Fernando Navarro's challenge on Pedro led to a second yellow and an otherwise elated Sevilla ending the match with just nine men on the field.
"You have to play very well to go away from Camp Nou with a point and it is impossible to achieve it if your goalkeeper is not the best," said Sevilla coach Marcelino.
Barça coach Pep Guardiola also praised Varas' "brilliant" performance and said he was satisfied with his players' efforts despite the result. "We gave it everything and more, trying in every way possible," said the Catalan míster. "We attacked well, but it's not easy when your rival puts so many people behind the ball."
The result saw Barcelona leapfrogged by Real Madrid at the top of the table - at least temporarily, pending third-place Levante's result against Villarreal in Sunday's late game. José Mourinho's men demolished former Real coach Manuel Pellegrini's much-touted Málaga 0-4 in an exhibition performance at La Rosaleda earlier on Saturday with one goal by Gonzalo Higuaín and a hat-trick from Cristiano Ronaldo.
"The first half it was absolutely fantastic," said an exuberant Mourinho about his team's performance. "I think we played a very complete first half against Lyon, but I thought this was better. [...] In the second half Málaga showed its quality [and] could easily have scored a couple of goals. But what we did in the first half was so, so good that the result ended up becoming a reward for that work. I liked everything."