BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo dueled to an entertaining stalemate on Sunday, with both superstars scoring twice as Barcelona drew 2-2 with Real Madrid to keep an eight-point lead over its archrival intact.
The result ended Barcelona's perfect start to the league campaign as it dropped points for the first time in seven games, but provided yet another memorable chapter in the rivalry between Messi and Ronaldo, two of the biggest names in the sport.
"It should be prohibited to say which is the best in the world," Madrid coach Jose Mourinho said. "They are both from another planet!"
Ronaldo put Madrid ahead at Camp Nou stadium in the 23rd from a pass by Karim Benzema to extend his scoring streak in "clasico" matches to six.
Then it was Messi's turn, as he took advantage of a defensive slip to level for Barcelona in the 31st, before adding a second goal in the 61st with a perfect free kick from almost 25 yards.
But as Barcelona tried to seal the result, Mesut Oezil unlocked Barcelona's makeshift defensive line to set up Ronaldo to respond five minutes later with the equalizer.
It was, perhaps, a fitting end to the latest head-to-head duel between Messi and Ronaldo, the pair who for the last two seasons have engaged in a two-way scoring race unlike anything the Spanish league has seen before. Messi and Ronaldo are the leading candidates for the world player of the year award, and both showed they more than deserved it with standout performances on Sunday night.
Ronaldo added to his pair of hat tricks from the previous week, while Messi recorded his 17th career goal against Madrid, leaving him one short of equaling Madrid legend Alfredo Di Stefano's record.
"(Messi and Ronaldo) both try to do everything they can to help their teams and score goals," Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova said. "If Ronaldo hadn't coincided with Messi, perhaps he would get even more recognition."
Atletico Madrid striker Radamel Falcao also scored a pair of goals, helping his team earn a 2-1 win over third-place Malaga. The Colombian international is level with Messi and Ronaldo as league leaders with eight goals each.
Atletico's sixth straight victory lifted it to level on points with Barcelona atop the standings.
At Camp Nou, the stadium was bedecked with independence flags and the game started with the 90,000-plus fans holding up colored cards to form a mosaic of the red-and-yellow Catalan flag before shouting "Independence" in unison in the latest manifestations of the surge of separatist sentiment in the northwestern region of Spain.
Politics aside, the home fans quickly returned their attention to Barcelona's thinned backline, which was without both center backs Carles Puyol (elbow) and Gerard Pique (foot). To compensate, Vilanova, in a minor surprise, left new signing Alex Song on the bench, and aligned Adriano alongside Javier Mascherano in the center of his defense.