Teenager Raphael Varane earned Real Madrid a 1-1 draw with Barcelona in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final.
The 19-year-old centre-back, in due to the injury-enforced absence of Pepe, enjoyed an exemplary game, making a goal-saving tackle on Pedro before nodding home nine minutes from time to keep Madrid on level terms ahead of the second leg.
The Catalan side looked to have one foot in the final when Cesc Fabregas put them ahead five minutes after the break with a neat finish, though they spurned several chances to double their lead as the half progressed.
Despite Barcelona’s domination of possession Madrid – who were also without the injured Iker Casillas in a Clasico for the first time since May 2002 – were equal to their rivals and deserved the draw.
Madrid had an instant opportunity to lead as Cristiano Ronaldo tested Jose Manuel Pinto with a dipping free-kick after two minutes following a poorly timed challenge from Gerard Pique on the edge of the area.
Barcelona came into the game slowly and, after Jordi Alba had fired well wide an unmarked position in the box, Xavi smashed a free-kick against the woodwork from the edge of the area on 21 minutes.
A suicidal piece of defending nearly gifted Barca a goal just four minutes later, Ricardo Carvalho’s poor back pass catching Diego Lopez in no man’s land, allowing Alba a low shot which was blocked on the line by the backpedalling Varane.
Karim Benzema then flashed an effort wide at the other end as it turned into an end-to-end encounter, with Madrid doing well to limit Lionel Messi’s influence until half-time.
But Madrid were growing visibly frustrated with Barcelona’s control of possession and it showed five minutes after the break.
Striker Jose Maria Callejon – back to do a spot of defending in the face of heavy Barca pressure – sliced a clearance straight to Fabregas, and the former Arsenal man moved into the area unopposed and tucked the ball under the onrushing Lopez to make it 1-0.
And Barcelona could have doubled their lead five minutes later were it not for Varane, the centre-back getting back to dispossess Pedro with a perfectly timed challenge as the striker latched on to Messi’s through ball.
Though they were finding it difficult to keep possession Madrid should have gone level on the hour-mark, with Ronaldo somehow nodding wide from six yards out after meeting Michael Essien’s curling cross from the right.
Gerard Pique then mimicked Varane’s stellar defensive effort at the other end, sliding in bravely to knock the ball away from the onrushing Ronaldo on 66 minutes as he raced through on goal.
It looked like Madrid would regret those two missed opportunities as the half wore on, before Varane’s timely intervention on 81 minutes.
The young Frenchman rose to meet a curling Mesut Ozil corner, powering a header beyond the reach of Pinto to cap a memorable Clasico debut.
But Barcelona had one final chance to take a lead into the second leg, but Lopez proved he may be an adequate replacement for the injured Casillas – reacting brilliantly to parry Alba’s volley after he was given space inside the area two minutes from time.