Wednesday night's Copa Clasico at the Estadio Bernabeu was billed as a straight shoot-out between the two team's red-hot attackers. The story was already written, it just lacked a leading man. Over the 90 minutes either Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi would prove decisive.
Raphaël Varane did not read the script, and the 19 year old French defender stole the show.
Early, with the game still scoreless, he appeared from nowhere to clear Xavi Hernández' goal-bound shot from the line. After half-time, with Barca 1-0 ahead through Cesc Fábregas and threatening to pull clear, there were two beautifully timed challenges to deny clear goalscoring opportunities for Messi and Fábregas.
Finally, with just nine minutes remaining, came the towering header to level the game, and the tie ahead of the second leg at the Camp Nou on February 27.
"He could not have played any better," said Madrid assistant coach Aitor Karanka afterwards. "He played a perfect game. He is...