MADRID, May 4 (Xinhua) -- The last of the four matches between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid was played on Tuesday night and Spanish football probably heaved a sigh of relief at the final whistle.
The four meetings in League, Cup and Champions League over a compact space of just 18 days have dominated the sporting agenda in the country like a sporting soap opera as fortunes from game to game.
The clashes highlighted a gulf in style both on and off the pitch with Real Madrid opting in the first three clashes for a three-man midfield in order to stop Barcelona playing their traditional passing game.
That involved players such as Pepe, Lassana Diarra and Alvaro Arbeloa making hard, and on occasions, challenges that went beyond what should be permitted on a football pitch.
Clearly aware of the risks he was taking with a physical approach, Madrid coach Jose Mourinho began to prepare for the games well in advance, complaining that referees always sent one of his players off, leaving Madrid with just 10 men against 11 for Barcelona.
That complaint, which ignores the fact that if your side plays dirty, it is more likely to suffer expulsions, was taken up by others at the club and in sectors of the pro-Madrid press.
Barcelona meanwhile stuck to their passing game, controlling possession for over 70 percent of the time in the majority of the encounters.
Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola and his players avoided discussing referees, but it has to be said that as the series of matches continued the tendency of players such as Pedro Rodriguez, Sergio Busquets and Dani Alves was to highlight every contact, looking to get their rivals booked.
The series kicked off with a 1-1 draw in the league in the Santiago Bernabeu. With the league title at stake, Mourinho's side sat deep and defended hard, but fell behind when Raul Albiol was correctly sent off for a foul on David Villa, which allowed Messi to put Barca ahead.
With a player less, Madrid pushed forward and Cristiano Ronaldo leveled from the penalty spot. It was hailed as a moral victory for Madrid: a brave fighback with a player less, ignoring the fact that the result virtually assured Barcelona's their third consecutive league title.
Four days later the two sides met in Valencia and the day was clearly Madrid's as Ronaldo's extra time goal gave his side its first trophy in three years.
Madrid repeated their tactics of stifling Barcelona in attack and despite their control, Barca created few chances, all of which were saved by Iker Casillas in the Madrid goal.
Pepe became the new hero of the Madrid press after a destructive display in midfield, although most preferred to ignore the fact that he could have been sent off after a series of hard fouls in midfield.
In Madrid the result was greeted as the end of an era. The change of a cycle of dominance for Barcelona and a new dawn for Real Madrid as top dogs in Spain. Suddenly Madrid were favorites to win the Champions League.
That was when Barcelona fought back. Following a provocative press conference from Mourinho in which he personally accused Guardiola of criticizing a correct referee's decision, the Barca coach hit back with a press conference aimed at lifting the his players.
"We will speak on the pitch," he said and they did.
Although the game threatened to follow the script of the Cup Final, with Madrid shutting the door on Barcelona, this time the German referee Wolfgang Stark did send Pepe off for a nasty lunge on Alves, who made the most of the challenge to ensure the Madrid player saw a direct red card.
Those who highlighted Alves' acting forgot that Marcelo should have also been sent off stamping on Pedro.
With extra space on the pitch Barca took control and Messi scored twice to win the game and give his side a huge step towards the final.
The reaction from Madrid were fury at a decision that although rigorous, was by no means scandalous. Players, and press reacted as if it was the biggest robbery of the century, with Mourinho instructing his players to complain in the mixed zone after the game.
The coach himself, who had been sent off for his complaints, gave another incendiary conference, in which he implied UEFA had helped Barca win all of their European titles. He will discover the extent of his sanction for those words this coming Friday.
Meanwhile the image of two sets of players playing at the limit, pressuring the referee and at each other's throats, literally in the case of Barca reserve keeper Pinto, went around the world and did no good to the image of the Spanish game.
The mutual denouncement between the clubs, both of which were thrown out by UEFA merely served to do more damage to already strained relations, with Madrid looking especially petty as they tried to have four Barca players suspended for "unsporting behaviour".
The club's TV station even produced a video proporting to show that Pepe had never touched Alves, provoking accusations that the images had been digitally altered.
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque spoke of his worry that relations between Barca and Madrid players in the national team would be damaged beyond repair and warned that anyone taking the hostility into the national camp ran the risk of being dropped.
Amid all of the controversy, few commented that Mourinho's side had played to draw the game 0-0, in front of their home fans in a match where they enjoyed only 25 percent of the possession.
Everyone wondered what would happen in the Camp Nou on Tuesday, but they needn't have done so as their players were clearly aware than some self control was needed and with Mourinho missing through suspension there was nobody to fan the flames pitchside.
Madrid played three strikers for once and for moments Barcelona were under pressure, before Pedro put them ahead in a game that ended 1-1.
Post game saw Mourinho's assistant Aitor Karanka complain about a Gonzalo Higuain goal being ruled out for a prior foul committed by Ronaldo.
Karanka ignored that his team had committed 30 fouls to Barca's 10 and had one shot on target to Barca's 12. If you need three goals, you have to shoot on target more than once.
"When it was 11 against 11," complained Karanka, "we have shown we can compete," highlighting that Madrid had won one game, lost one and drawn two.
He forgot to point out something important. The win in the Copa del Rey gave Madrid the least important competition in Spain. The defeat all but put them out of the Champions League and the two draws saw them surrender any chance of winning the BBVA Primera Liga title and confirmed their exit from Europe.
Madrid have spent over $500 million dollars on players over the past two seasons and they only competed when a central defender played in midfield. When it comes to football, Barcelona are still the team to beat in Spain.