By Joseph Cassinelli
MADRID (Reuters) - With Real Madrid trailing 2-1 to great rivals Barcelona in the Clasico on Sunday, there was something of an air of inevitability as Sergio Ramos was sent off for the 22nd time in his professional career.
In Ramos's own words, his sending off proved "decisive" as Barca went on to win 3-2.
The Madrid captain had appeared incredulous when referee Alejandro Hernandez brandished the red card, but there could be few complaints after Ramos's ugly two-footed lunge forced Lionel Messi to take evasive action.
Ramos argued with Hernandez before slowly making his way off the pitch, sarcastically applauding. He also intimated to Barcelona defender Gerard Pique that the Catalan side’s pre-match talk about the 34-year-old referee giving preference to Madrid had influenced the decision.
"It's excessive," Ramos said of the decision. "I was not going to cause harm. In the way I understand football, it's a yellow, not a red."
"I arrived late for the tackle but there was no contact, there was no intention to deliberately attack a player. It was a very decisive decision."
Ramos added: "We’ve won a Champions League with a goal in injury time and now it’s our turn to have the shoe on the other foot. You need to look forwards."
It was the fifth time Ramos had seen red in the Clasico, with three of his last five dismissals against any opposition coming against Madrid’s great rivals in what is turning into something of a habit.
"I'm sure when he (Ramos) gets home he will see that it’s a red. It was obvious, he goes in with two feet up and has no chance of getting the ball," Pique retorted.
"There's nothing to talk about. What happens here is they're used to referees allowing things and when they don't, there's all sorts of reactions."
Ultimately, it was a moment of madness that cost his side. Had Ramos stayed on the pitch, Barcelona would probably not have been allowed to counter at will.
Instead, Barca right back Sergi Roberto surged forwards in the 92nd minute, skipping away from challenges by Luka Modric and then Marcelo before Messi scored his 500th goal for Barca with the last kick of the game to seal a famous win.
"Maybe I should take some responsibility," Marcelo said. "Perhaps if I had brought him down, they wouldn't have made it 3-2."
It could well prove to be a moment that turns the La Liga title race around. Ramos will now miss Madrid’s midweek trip to Deportivo La Coruna, leaving his side with just one recognised centre back for a match they can ill-afford to slip up in with Barca poised to pounce.
(Editing by Gareth Jones)