Fabregas gives Barca the edge

Champs net crucial away goal as they hold Real Madrid 1-1 in first leg

Cesc Fabregas struck what may prove a priceless away goal as holders Barcelona drew 1-1 at depleted arch-rivals Real Madrid in an entertaining and closely fought King's Cup semifinal first leg on Wednesday.

Lionel Messi sent Fabregas clear five minutes after halftime at an electric Bernabeu stadium enjoying the second "Clasico" of the season and the Spain midfielder finished with ease past Real goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Barca missed several clear chances to extend their lead before Real centre back Raphael Varane crowned a fine performance by leaping to head home an equaliser from a Mesut Ozil centre seven minutes from time.

Despite having a slight advantage for the second leg at the Nou Camp at the end of next month, Barca may live to regret not scoring more against a Real team missing regular keeper and captain Iker Casillas and Pepe through injury and the suspended Sergio Ramos.

In a game pitting a host of Spain team-mates against each other and billed as the latest showdown between Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, both sides created moments of danger in an ultimately goalless first half.
It was the 223rd meeting between Spain's dominant clubs and their 31st clash in the King's Cup.

Barca knocked Real out in the quarterfinals last season on their way to winning the trophy for a record-extending 26th time and Real beat Barca 1-0 in the 2011 final for their 18th Cup triumph.

Barca went closest to scoring when Xavi curled a 21st-minute free kick against the crossbar and then had a shot brilliantly cleared off the line by Varane three minutes later. After Fabregas put Barca ahead, Ronaldo nodded wide with the goal at his mercy before the Portuguese was denied by a superb last-ditch tackle from Gerard Pique.

Varane's leveller was no more than Real deserved and Lopez, making his debut after joining from Sevilla as cover for Casillas, thrilled the home fans when he palmed away a Jordi Alba strike late on.

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