MADRID — Vinicius Junior finally had his big night with Real Madrid, scoring a goal in a decisive "clasico" against Barcelona.
The Brazilian, who arrived at the club amid high expectations as a teenager, was yet to thrive in an important match. But on Sunday he was crucial for Madrid, making dangerous runs and scoring a 71st-minute goal in a 2-0 win over its arch rival at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
Substitute Mariano Diaz also scored for Madrid, which ended its seven-match winless streak against Barcelona and regained the Spanish league lead. It has a one-point lead over the Catalan club after 26 matches.
The 19-year-old Vinicius Junior had scored eight goals with Madrid since arriving two seasons ago, but none as big as this one.
"In the end he scored an important goal in an important match," Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. "I’m happy for him, he deserved a goal like this. He played well with and without the ball. He did a great job defensively as well."
Vinicius Junior was one of the players who arrived as a potential replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo when the Portugal star left for Juventus, but the Brazilian was yet to fully come through despite often showing signs of his great talent.
"It’s my best night as a Real Madrid player," Vinicius Junior said. "I always work hard and I knew a moment like this would come."
The victory ended Madrid’s three-game winless streak in all competitions, with its most recent setback a 2-1 home loss to Manchester City in the last 16 of the Champions League. It also hadn’t won at home in three consecutive games, while Barcelona was coming off four consecutive victories in the league.
Barcelona also had won the last four league games at the Bernabeu, and hadn’t lost to the rival in any competition since 2017. Madrid hadn’t beaten the Catalan club at home in the league since 2014.
"The most frustrating thing is that we created chances but couldn’t capitalize on them," Barcelona coach Quique Setien said. "We did things really well in the first half, pressing and finding spaces, but we couldn’t get it right in front of the goal."
Barcelona looked the most dangerous in the first half but Madrid took control after halftime, opening the scoring after Vinicius Junior made a run into the area and found the far corner after a through-ball by Toni Kroos. The ball deflected on Gerard Pique’s leg before getting past Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Diaz sealed the victory by adding the second goal in stoppage time after a nice run into the area.
Lionel Messi had a quiet night, squandering a couple of good chances in one-on-one situations and being shown a late yellow card for a hard foul from behind on Madrid midfielder Casemiro.
Like Messi, Barcelona midfielder Arthur also was denied by Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois in a one-on-one breakaway in the first half.
Former Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo was among the nearly 80,000 in attendance at the Bernabeu, as were players from the Wuhan Zall soccer team based in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus coronavirus outbreak. The team arrived in Spain in January for preseason training but still doesn’t know when it will be able to return home.
Also at the stadium for the high-profile game was Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.
ATLETICO HELD AGAIN
Atletico Madrid’s struggles away from home continued with a 1-1 draw at last-place Espanyol, its fourth consecutive winless match as a visitor in the league.
The result dropped Diego Simeone’s team to fifth place, outside the Champions League qualification spots. It is one point behind fourth-place Getafe and two behind third-place Sevilla. Atletico trails Madrid by 12 points.
Atletico has won only one of its last 10 away matches in the league, with seven draws and two losses. The sole win during that run was against Real Betis in December. It has only two other away wins in the league this season.
Espanyol, at the bottom of the table with 20 points from 26 matches, opened the scoring with an own-goal by Atletico defender Stefan Savic in the 24th. He found his own net while trying to intercept a low cross by Chinese forward Wu Lei.
Niguez equalized for Atletico with a neat volley from outside the area after the ball was cleared from the box shortly after halftime.
Getafe ended its two-game losing streak in the league with a 1-0 victory at relegation-threatened Mallorca with a goal by Nemanja Maksimovic in the 67th.
The win moved the team from southern Madrid back into the Champions League places after losses to Sevilla at home and Barcelona away.
SEVILLA WINS LATE
Forward Youssef En-Nesyri scored the winning goal three minutes into stoppage time to give Sevilla a 3-2 home win over 10-man Osasuna.
En-Nesyri had already scored Sevilla’s first goal, and Lucas Ocampos added to the team’s first-half lead before the break. Osasuna went a man down in the 54th after goalkeeper Sergio Herrera was sent off for touching the ball with his hands outside the area, but the visitors rallied with goals by Aridane Hernandez in the 64th and Roberto Torres in the 74th.
ATHLETIC ENDS SLUMP
Athletic Bilbao beat Villarreal 1-0 at home to end a 10-match winless streak in the league.
Athletic was yet to win in the league this year, with its last victory coming on Dec. 1 against Granada, its opponent in the Copa del Rey semifinals on Thursday.
Raul Garcia scored the winner by converting a 56th-minute penalty kick.
The game ended with 12 yellow cards, six for each team, and Villarreal coach Javi Calleja was sent off.
Athletic, coming off four straight league losses, moved to 10th place, four points behind eighth-place Villarreal.