Madrid, March 3 (IANS) FC Barcelona got a first-half goal from Ivan Rakitic in a 1-0 La Liga victory over Real Madrid, who lost for the second time in four days to their arch-rival.
The league-leading Catalans' victory in the Matchday 26 contest at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium here on Saturday night, which was marred by an incident involving Blancos defender Sergio Ramos and Barca superstar Lionel Messi, gives them a whopping 12-point lead over the third-placed Madrid side with only a dozen games remaining in the season, reports Efe news.
The hosts got off to a promising start and had some chances in Barcelona's area in the early going, but Karim Benzema was off the mark with one attempt on goal before a shot by Luka Modric was cleared away by Barca defender Gerard Pique.
But Barcelona started asserting their superiority soon afterward, creating more and more danger with every foray into the hosts' area until getting on the board with a goal by Rakitic in the 26th minute.
The Croatian international produced a Messi-like finish on the play, receiving a pass on the right side from Sergi Roberto and then dinking a shot over a sliding Ramos and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who had hit the turf trying to prevent a low shot from getting past him.
But the biggest drama at the close of the first half involved the ever-controversial Ramos, who beat Messi to a loose ball and in the process hit the Argentine in the face with his left arm.
Messi reacted furiously and the two players stared each other down forehead-to-forehead, but no yellow card was awarded.
After the break, roughly 25 minutes went by without a clear scoring opportunity.
Real Madrid, for their part, failed to score against Barcelona for the third straight time in front of their home fans.
Messi, meanwhile, went home without a goal.
Afterward, Pique hailed the atmosphere at the Bernabeu.
"There are other matches where it's hard to get motivated. When we come here, it's in the right conditions and to get the three points."
Referring to the big lead that Barcelona (60 points) enjoy over Atletico Madrid (50 points) and Real Madrid (48 points) in La Liga, Pique expressed cautious optimism.