Published March 24, 2014
(SportsNetwork.com) - It is known simply as El Clasico. And you don't need to be a master of the Spanish language to know that it means Barcelona against Real Madrid.
It is the most watched game in European club soccer, viewed by hundreds of millions of people around the world, but lately the meetings between these two Spanish giants have been anything but classic.
Despite the incredible amount of talent on the field, the games have recently been filled with more theatrics than a high school drama club as players from both teams have been more concerned with getting opposing players sent off than with actually making positive contributions to their own side.
Diving, whining and general negativity have been constant themes in these games, which have the potential to be among the most aesthetically pleasing in the world.
So that is why Barcelona's thrilling 4-3 win over Real Madrid at the Bernabeu on Sunday was so refreshing.
Both Madrid and Barcelona went at each other from the opening whistle and produced a fine offensive spectacle that was filled with drama and plenty of momentum swings.
There were still theatrics and Madrid left the match with plenty of questions surrounding the way the game was officiated in the second half as defender Sergio Ramos was sent off and Barcelona was awarded two penalty kicks in the final 25 minutes.
But even that wasn't enough to take away from the brilliant display we were treated to on Sunday, which will set up a fantastic finish to La Liga's final two months.
Barcelona entered the match four points back of Real Madrid and in need of a win to thrust itself back into the title discussion.
And the first 45 minutes were nothing short of spectacular as both teams showed a sense of urgency that led to a free-flowing offensive display that saw the teams split four goals and produce a bevy of offensive chances.
The second half wasn't as easy on the eyes, but it had plenty of dramatic moments as referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco handed out a red card and awarded three penalty kicks.
Cristiano Ronaldo's 55th-minute penalty kick put Madrid up 3-2, and at the time, the club held a seven-point lead on Barcelona.
A loss would pretty much end Barca's hopes of retaining the title, but the visitors responded like champions and battled back with Neymar getting in behind the Madrid defense and forcing Ramos to bring him down inside the penalty area.
The Madrid man was sent off and Lionel Messi stepped to the spot and fired home the equalizer, leaving Barcelona with 25 minutes to seek out a winner.
Dani Alves struck the post for Barca shortly after that goal, yet Andres Iniesta won another penalty kick in the 84th minute and Messi once again stepped up and fired home a pressure-packed spot kick that has provided another twist in the story of La Liga's 2013-14 title race.
So what did Sunday's result mean?
The league table now has three teams separated by just one point at the top, making it the most intriguing race in all of Europe as Atletico Madrid has joined the two heavyweights for what should be a thrilling final nine games of the campaign.
Barcelona's win also proved that this team is still one that cannot be counted out as long as Messi, Iniesta and Xavi are around.
For stretches of Sunday's game, Madrid looked like the better side and one that might finally be able to overtake Barcelona as the top team in Spain. But once again, Barca showed that it possesses a championship pedigree and just seems to have Madrid's number.
The two teams will meet up once again next month in the final of the Copa del Rey, and if that match is anything like Sunday's contest, we will be in for another treat.
Messi became the first Barcelona player to score a hat trick at Real Madrid on Sunday, while Madrid had the chance to take a firm grip on the title race in La Liga, only to squander a 3-2 lead over the final 25 minutes to turn the title race on its head.
Of the 11 players who were named to FIFA's 2013 Team of the Year, six were on the same field on Sunday and they gave us a show we won't soon forget.
It was entertaining, it was exciting and it was dramatic.
In short, it was everything that El Clasico should be.