Ronaldo inspires ten-man Real comeback in El Clasico
MADRID, April 1 (Reuters) - A classy solo goal by Brazilian striker Ronaldo and some outstanding goalkeeping from Iker Casillas helped 10-man Real Madrid come from behind to hold leaders Barcelona to a 1-1 draw at the Nou Camp on Saturday.
The result did little to stop Barca's progress towards a second consecutive league title, however, as they remain a comfortable 11 points clear of their arch-rivals at the top of the table with seven games left to play.
Real fell behind to a controversial Ronaldinho penalty midway through the first half and suffered another setback soon after when Roberto Carlos, who had conceded the spot kick, was red carded minutes later for saying something to the referee.
But Real, who were crushed 3-0 by Barca at the Bernabeu this season, salvaged a draw and some pride when Ronaldo roared on to a clever through-ball from Julio Baptista and netted with a deft chip eight minutes before the break.
Earlier on Saturday, Villarreal warmed up for next week's Champions League quarter-final, second leg against Inter Milan when they secured their first Primera Liga win in five outings with a 1-0 victory at Real Zaragoza.
The win pushed Manuel Pellegrini's side up one place to seventh, while Cup finalists Zaragoza remain 10th.
At the other end, basement club Malaga look to be heading for relegation after a 3-0 defeat by fellow strugglers Real Sociedad.
Barca were welcomed on to the pitch by a spectacular crimson and blue mosaic held up by the 98,000 fans at the Nou Camp and they responded with a high-tempo start.
Dutch midfielder Mark van Bommel gave Casillas a couple of early scares and leading striker Samuel Eto'o almost put the Catalans ahead with a vicious low drive but his shot was beaten away by the alert Real keeper.
Barca proceeded to pour through the Real midfield almost at will, although they took the lead in controversial circumstances after Van Bommel engineered a penalty when he easily went to ground under a Roberto Carlos challenge.
Ronaldinho sent Casillas the wrong way when he fired low into the corner with his spot kick.
Roberto Carlos picked up a booking as he complained about the decision and moments later lost his head and was given a straight red card after exchanging words with the referee when he was penalised for a foul on Henrik Larsson.
Real coach Juan Ramon Lopez Caro responded by sacrificing Robinho to bring on Alvaro Mejia to strengthen his defence but it was Casillas who kept Real in the match when he produced another superb reflex save to deny Eto'o.
Minutes later Baptista and Ronaldo manufactured an equaliser out of the blue.
Baptista dinked a perfectly weighted pass over the halfway line into Ronaldo's path and the striker powered past the Barca defence before sending a classy chip over keeper Victor Valdes and into the net to score against his old side.
Barca lost their rhythm after the equaliser but had a golden opportunity to seal the game when Larsson was put in the clear midway through the half with only Casillas to beat.
The Real keeper stood his ground well, though, and diverted the Swede's shot away for a corner.
At the other end Ronaldo was booked for diving in the area and David Beckham was lucky not to get a yellow card as well after firing the ball in frustration at Luis Medina Cantalejo, a referee who has sent the England captain off twice before.
Barca laid siege to Real's area for most of the second half and Larsson missed another good chance when he headed wide in stoppage time but the Champions League quarter-finalists, who face Benfica next week, could not find a way past Casillas.