IT took some time, but Lionel Messi eventually speared through the callousness of so much of the encounter between Real Madrid and Barcelona with two goals of beauty and ingenuity.
However, beyond the deft brilliance of the Argentine, the abiding images were of malice and aggression; the dark edges of a long-held rivalry.
Scotland fell victim to an angst-ridden bout of introspection when Celtic and Rangers engaged in similar hostility in a Scottish Cup replay at Celtic Park last month. The two games, shaped by cultural, political, football (and in the case of the Old Firm, religious) differences were comparable in nature: they represent a blatant opposition of identities.
Spain will be less inclined to hand-wringing, although the Barcelona directors called an emergency board meeting to discuss Jose Mourinho's post-match comments accusing Uefa of fixing the team's passage to the Champions League final. "I don't know if it's the friendship of [Spanish football federation president Angel Maria] Villar at Uefa, where he is vice-president," the Real Madrid manager said. "[Pep] Guardiola is a fantastic coach, but he's won one Champions League which I would be ashamed to win after the scandal at Stamford Bridge and, if he wins it again, it will be after the scandal at the Bernabeu. I hope that one day he will win a clean Champions League, with no incidents behind it."
Mourinho, pictured, is a schemer, as comfortable manipulating with cruelty as much as praise, but comments like these in Glasgow would cause turmoil. If the constant haranguing of the referee, Wolfgang Stark, the bouts of play-acting and the altercations in the Bernabeu stands on Wednesday night are not common to Scottish football, the aggressive posturing, the reckless tackles, the brawl at half-time, and the showing of three red cards would not seem out of place in an Old Firm game.
The intensity of the rivalry between Rangers and Celtic has caused disquiet, but the fourth of five Barcelona v Real Madrid meetings this season brought the understanding that derby matches where impassioned claims for supremacy are made as a form of self-expression are vulnerable to rage and spite; the Old Firm game is not unique in its furies.
What it tends to lack is the capability to be breathtaking. There was intrigue in the way that Real Madrid disregarded a heritage of verve and haughtiness to set out to suppress Barcelona, to defend a deep line at the expense of their own ambition. If the game was held up as a showcase for the competing claims of greatness between Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, it was the squat, irrepressible Argentine who prevailed and influenced the game with his devilish imagination, while the latter was restricted to a pouting dismay.
This was a clash of style and philosophies: the meticulous order and positional discipline of Mourinho's side against the earnest purity of Barcelona's passing game and their willingness to trust in the archness of Messi, Xavi, David Villa and Pedro. The Champions League semi-final became an extension of this national derby, raising the stakes to such heightened levels that hyperbole surrounded the game. But once Guardiola had reacted to Mourinho's goading by swearing on Spanish television during the build-up, it was the Catalan side that exerted their authority. Even with Javier Mascherano, a midfielder, at centre-back, and Carles Puyol, a centre-half, at left-back, Barcelona were still allowed to be imperious in the way they hoarded possession.
Mourinho remained true to his autocratic approach to management, so that the free-spirits of his side Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil, Angel di Maria were obliged to be cautious and circumspect, to track back like grim journeymen. It seemed a betrayal, of their qualities and the contrast with the liberated nature of Barcelona's attacking play (without the ball the visitors tracked and closed down with a fierce intent) was stark.
Neither side was conventional, with Madrid starting with Ronaldo as a lone forward who dropped into midfield, and Barcelona lining up with Messi as a deep-lying centre-forward while Villa and Pedro stayed high up the pitch, but also out wide.
In the end, the artistry that the game was capable of were lost to Pepe, leading with a high foot on Dani Alves, who reacted overtly, and Jose Pinto, Barcelona's reserve goalkeeper, provoking the half-time squabble.
As Mourinho looked to the sanctuary of blaming the match officials it was saying "well done" to one of the assistant referees after Pepe's red card that saw him sent to the stand and Guardiola relied again on the perseverance of his side's attacking instincts, the game became entrenched in its conflict of ideals, but it could never be conceptual when so much obsession and emotion was gathered in the stands.
It was a flawed spectacle, but then somehow more real and sincere for those blemishes. And it left Mourinho looking bereft: a manager whose grand cunning had been revealed as futile.