BARCELONA • Thirty-three games and counting.
Real Madrid may have left it terribly late to extend their long run without a defeat, but thanks to a 90th-minute headed goal from their captain, Sergio Ramos, they are still Spain's stubborn invincibles.
Following their 1-1 draw with arch-rivals Barcelona in La Liga on Saturday, they are set to begin 2017 at the top of the league.
Their advantage over Barcelona (28 points) stays at six points, with Sevilla a further point back after 14 matches.
Barcelona feel that gap like an angry bruise after a "clasico" that took time to warm up towards its cliff-hanger finish.
That's who Sergio is... The thing that stands out, again, is this team's heart. We believed right until the end and got a draw that is very important.
ZINEDINE ZIDANE, Real manager, on his team battling right to the end and being rewarded with a point.
The hosts believed Luis Suarez's header for a 1-0 lead after 53 minutes and the upbeat effect it had on team-mates who have struggled in recent weeks was carrying them out of their trough, trimming the distance the defending champions peer up at to the summit of La Liga.
They reckoned without Ramos, and his Phoenix-from-the-flames habit.
The Real captain is sometimes the pantomime villain of this rivalry, a regular collector of red cards.
He is also a phenomenal target man at set pieces, with a gift for the telling punchline.
To a list of heroic interventions that already includes goals in two Champions League finals from central defence, he can add the hefty point he seized on Saturday, thumping in a free kick played into him from the excellent Luka Modric.
"That's who Sergio is," said Zinedine Zidane, the Real coach who, 11 months into his first senior management job, already has to scroll back some way to remember what losing feels like.
"The thing that stands out, again, is this team's heart. We believed right until the end and got a draw that is very important."
The end was right: even after the goal, Casemiro cleared off the line to cling on to a precious point.
For Barcelona, the draw felt like a defeat. Coach Luis Enrique likened it to getting a jug of cold water poured over your head; a real downer.
The hosts were left to rue huge missed chances from Neymar and Lionel Messi and they had wasted the opportunity to reduce the gap to three points, which could prove a huge moment - one that will go some way in defining the title race.
Real have not been this far clear since the spring of 2012, when they won their only league title in the last eight years.
"We deserved to win and we had the points in our hands," shrugged Enrique, whose feelings after just two wins from seven games now are also unfamiliar.
He had patrolled the touchline of a rather subdued Nou Camp for a portion of the afternoon and left the field with the majority of the crowd crestfallen.
One piece of positive news for Barcelona was the return of captain Andres Iniesta from injury, as the Spanish international put on a virtuoso display as a second-half substitute.
"The feeling could be that we've dropped two points, but there is no time to feel sorry for ourselves," said the 32-year-old.
"The games come thick and fast and we have to win and hope Madrid slip up."
THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE