Barcelona gains Champions final
BARCELONA, Spain -- Barcelona players jumped in celebration, throwing Eric Abidal into the air. After four tense games against Real Madrid over 18 days, they were going to Wembley for the Champions League final.
"Football justice was served," Xavi said. "The best team got through."
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Pedro Rodriguez scored off a perfect through pass from Andres Iniesta in the 54th minute, Abidal made an emotional return from surgery to remove a liver tumor and Barcelona completed a 3-1 aggregate win in the home-and-home, total-goals series with a 1-1 tie Tuesday night.
Seeking its fourth Champions League title and third in six years, Barcelona plays Manchester United or Schalke in the final on May 28.
Madrid coach Jose Mourinho apparently was absent. Following his ejection during Barcelona's 2-0 win at Madrid last Wednesday, he was said to be watching from the team hotel.
Mourinho accused referees of a conspiracy to assist Barcelona, and Cristiano Ronaldo echoed those complaints, saying Belgian referee Frank De Bleeckere took away a goal from Madrid that should have counted.
"If things don't improve we should just stay home and let Barcelona play by themselves," Ronaldo said. "Next year they should just give the cup directly to Barcelona."
While last week's match was dominated by fights, diving and accusations of feigned injuries, this was a cleaner and crisper match. Barcelona controlled the ball once again, as it did in its previous meetings with Madrid this year -- a 5-0 league win in November, a 1-1 league draw on April 16, a 1-0 overtime win by Madrid in the Copa del Rey final four days later and in last week's match.
"The last 20 days have been really hard, a lot of tension," Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said, adding that Madrid was "probably the best team in the world apart from my team, maybe."
Rodriguez gave Barcelona a three-goal lead in the home-and-home, total-goals series, scoring his 21st goal of the season when he gathered Iniesta's pass alone inside the area and beat goalkeeper Iker Casillas with a low, left-footed shot.
Madrid scored its first goal at Camp Nou since 2007 in the 64th. Xabi Alonso stole the ball and fed Angel Di Maria, whose shot hit the near post and came right back to him. Maria squared the ball to Marcelo, who scored on Real Madrid's only shot on goal.
Before a crowd of 95,701 in Europe's largest stadium, Barcelona had 64 percent possession and completed 631 passes to 261 for Madrid. The Blaugrana had 11 attempts on goal to just three for Madrid -- which didn't have its first until the 53rd minute.
"Another [setback], like always," Casillas said. "We're not going to get upset because it will just be used against us."
Mourinho faces an uncertain future following a disappointing first season that produced just one trophy: the Copa del Rey. Los Blancos trail Barcelona by eight points in the Spanish league with four games remaining and have been criticized by former Real great Alfredo Di Stefano for their defensive tactics.
"Mourinho is right -- after the [last] game he said it was impossible for us to go forward," assistant coach Aitor Karanka said. "He's feeling angry about what we've seen in the last few games with the referees."
At the end of the match, Barcelona players tossed Abidal into the air. Abidal replaced captain Carles Puyol in the second-half injury time, and was greeted by a loud ovation in his first appearance since surgery on March 17.
"It's such an important day for me, I worked a lot to get here," Abidal said. "They were very difficult weeks after the operation but these are things that happen in life."
For the first time in five meetings between the rivals this year, Real Madrid managed not to have any players ejected -- although five were given yellow cards.
Casillas kept the visitors close with a number of big saves in the first half on Lionel Messi, who was fouled 11 times during the match. While Gonzolo Higuain put the ball into the net past goalkeeper Victor Valdes in the 47th minute, it was called off when Ronaldo was whistled for a foul by De Bleeckere. Ronaldo went down under a challenge from Gerard Pique and, in falling, clipped the heel of Javier Mascherano with his back.
"That would have been the first step in the comeback," Alonso said. "We're upset, hurt to not go through because of so many wrong decisions."
Madrid's players were all visibly upset after the game.
"Barcelona is very well protected -- we knew something would happen," Ronaldo said. "[Higuain's] goal was legal. Pique pushed me and I fell on top of Mascherano, who never went to the ground in England, but here he's learned that trade like the rest of them."
Manchester United takes a 2-0 lead into Wednesday night's second leg at Old Trafford, and the final could be a rematch of the 2009 championship that Barcelona won 2-0. Before then, Abidal has four league games to regain sharpness and give Barcelona a chance to start its first-choice 11 for the first time since mid-January.
The usually reserved Abidal opened up to a psychiatrist as part of his recovery program.
"I don't know if it's little time," he said of his return, "but the most important thing is that this was my obsession."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press