BARCELONA - There was no Lionel Messi for an hour, no Gareth Bale either, and there was no winner but there were two Brazilians making their clásico debuts and making their mark, taking leading roles on the biggest stage.

Vinícius Júnior, 18, made Real Madrid’s opening goal and Malcom, 21, scored Barcelona’s equaliser. If one might have been expected – excitement has been building over Vinícius at the Bernabéu, the sense of the emergence of a new star – the other was not: Malcom’s goal, scored early in the second half, was celebrated with relief as well as joy.

His first months in Barcelona have not been easy. His first half here was not, either. But nobody was more involved than he or Vinícius – one on the left wing, the other on the right – and he scored the goal that means the tie hangs in the balance. In the end, with Messi playing only half an hour, there was no way of separating these sides. “There was so much quality out there,” Santiago Solari said after a special night for two Brazilians.

Vinícius has led Madrid’s recent revival – enthusiasm running through everything he does and proving contagious, some light amid the darkness – and he led them here as well. Defeated 5-0 last time they came here, this time Madrid were a goal up after five minutes. And it wasn’t even their first attack. Vinícius ran at Nélson Semedo for the second time, shifting the ball on to his right and sending a cross over Jordi Alba to where Karim Benzema was waiting. Benzema pulled back for Lucas Vázquez to score.

At every stage of the move, Barcelona arrived a moment too late and in the opening stages that pattern was repeated all over the pitch. There was a tentativeness about them that Madrid took advantage of: Solari’s plan to rob and run, reinforced by the early lead, reaped rewards. Ivan Rakitic was the first man caught out, followed by Philippe Coutinho and Sergio Busquets. Each time, they found Vinícius going at them fearlessly.

First, Gerard Piqué had to dive to block Vinícius. Next Vinícus scuffed a shot, supplied by Benzema. And then, dashing away, his pull-back just evaded Benzema. That chance come as a warning, a reminder of Madrid’s threat at a time when Barcelona had started to wrest back some control. Another pass from Vinícius set up Toni Kroos, who shot over.

At the other end of the same flank, Malcom was becoming a focal point too. He should have put Barcelona level, played through by Luis Suárez on 20 minutes, only to shoot straight at Keylor Navas. You could almost feel his insecurity – but he did not hide. In fact, he was the player Barcelona sought most, finding space in a familiar place: behind Marcelo. The ball went out to him repeatedly, but didn’t always come back in. Willing to run, he was not always able to find the telling pass, and at times was exasperating, but what the Catalans did create largely came from him. On the other side, Coutinho did little, timid again.

Piqué headed Malcom’s clipped free-kick just over; Navas blocked Semedo after Malcom had slipped him in; and then another delivery was headed against the bar by Rakitic. He then wriggled free and found Suárez, whose shot was saved brilliantly by Navas. He remained erratic: when it opened up for him soon after, he gave the ball away to groans from the fans.

And yet he would delight them soon enough, when Clément Lenglet’s long pass early in the second half sent Alba sprinting into the area. Navas got out but the ball ran free to Suárez, whose superb shot hit the near post, running across to Malcom. He controlled and, with time to think and to doubt, struck past four men into the net.

Barcelona were level, and then Messi was on, entering the fray with Arturo Vidal, Casemiro, and Bale. He was immediately involved, and the ball was Barcelona’s. Messi won a free-kick that he bent into the wall, then almost ran free. But opportunities were few, Malcom and Vinícius having been substituted off.

Messi appeared to be choosing his moments, handbrake on, and the best chance fell to Bale when Benzema found him after Marc André ter Stegen failed to clear fully. Inside the area, the goalkeeper gone, Bale was slow to shoot and was closed down. Piqué dived to block another shot, this time from Kroos. At the other end, Sergio Ramos dived too, stopping Messi as the final minute slipped away. There will be at least 90 more.