at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Madrid – Barcelona boss Gerardo Martino believes his side now have a great chance to retain their La Liga title as a Lionel Messi hat-trick handed them a vital 4-3 win away to Real Madrid on Sunday.
The Catalans still trail leaders Atletico Madrid and Real by a point with nine games to go.
However, having appeared out of the title race due to recent defeats away to Real Sociedad and Valladolid, Martino said his side had given themselves a second chance at the title.
“The league starts anew now,” he said.
“More than the mathematical distance we were behind, the impression was people wrote us off. Atletico Madrid were always in the fight and I think that after this result we are too.
“That Barca and Real are fighting until the end is normal and this year Atletico are too. With nine games to go they are the leaders.
“The reality is we have had dips and we are still not the leaders. We didn't play well in Valladolid or San Sebastian (against Sociedad), but we played very well tonight.
“With this result and boost in confidence that allows us to look at the future with a bit more hope.”
Messi deservingly took most of the plaudits as he took his tally in Clasicos to 21 to move outright as the all-time leading scorer in the fixture and also overtook Hugo Sanchez to become the second highest scorer in the history of La Liga.
“It is difficult to talk about Leo because it is fruitless; compliment after compliment, record after record. Today I think he broke two records and it is deserved.
“I have to value the work, effort and commitment of all the team. Leo has had many games like this.
“I think generally we controlled the centre of the pitch with Xavi, Andres (Iniesta) Cesc (Fabregas) and (Sergio) Busquets and through our numerical supremacy and having more of the ball it allowed us to control more of the match.”
Defender Gerard Pique echoed his manager's words and believes winning at the Bernabeu is a big statement after their recent struggles.
“We knew that to win the league we had to win here and I think we saw a great spectacle on behalf of both teams. It was a very offensive match and the fans will have enjoyed it a lot.
“To win here at the Bernabeu is always a big blow. I doubt anyone doesn't understand that with all the quality there is on show.
“We had a lot of possession, we created chances and we deservedly won the game.”
Pique also shrugged off Real's complaints, particularly from Cristiano Ronaldo, about the referee's influence on the game.
Alberto Undiano Mallenco awarded three penalties on the night, two to Barca and one to Real, with the final spot-kick allowing Messi to slot home the winner six minutes from time.
“We are in a country where you witness such a great spectacle and afterwards people only speak about the referee's performance.
“It is very unjust for this sport. There are many decisions which are taken in a second, but nothing that influenced the result.” – Sapa-AFP