Messi stretchered off as Barca held to draw
Barcelona 0 Benfica 0
Barcelona and Benfica battled out a goalless draw at the Nou Camp this evening, meaning Lionel Messi remained one goal away from equalling Gerd Muller’s record and the Portuguese visitors crashed out of the Champions League.
Messi was introduced just before the hour and played for around 25 minutes before being carried off on a stretcher.
And that was not the only late drama, as Celtic – who had to better Benfica’s result to reach the last 16 – secured a 2-1 victory over Spartak Moscow, condemning Jorge Jesus’ side to third place in Group G and a place in the Europa League.
Much of the pre-match build-up had focused on Messi, with the prolific Argentina forward just one goal away from matching Muller’s 1972 mark of 85 in a calendar year.
But the three-time Ballon d’Or winner was named on the bench in Tito Vilanova’s much-changed line-up which included eight B team players, with Javier Mascherano, Jordi Alba, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas among the star names not included in the matchday squad.
Barca had the bulk of possession but it was the visitors who posed the greater threat in the first half. They had 11 attempts, six of which were on target, but failed to find a way past Jose Pinto.
Rodrigo had the first presentable opportunity for the Portuguese team when he sprung the offside trap and was played in by Ola John, but he slotted his left-footed shot just wide.
Lima then went within a whisker with a diving header at the near post from former Barcelona B team forward Nolito’s cross.
Barca had a couple of sights of goal of their own, Cristian Tello going through but unable to get the ball under control as Benfica goalkeeper Artur advanced and then Rafinha seeing his angled effort headed off the line.
But it was Pinto who continued to be the busier goalkeeper, getting a vital touch to divert Lima’s right-footed shot onto the post and then looking on as John fired into the side-netting after cutting in from the right.
Benfica started the second period in similar fashion, Nolito flashing narrowly wide after Lima’s cross from the right had only been half cleared by the Barca defence within a minute of the restart.
But Barca looked brighter and, after Artur comfortably held onto David Villa’s well-struck free-kick and the Spain striker had directed another opportunity wide, the biggest cheer of the night so far greeted the 58th-minute introduction of Messi in place of Rafinha.
Jesus’ side were clearly primed to keep a close eye on the 25-year-old, and within a minute Benfica centre-back Luisao found himself in the referee’s notebook for fouling the substitute.
At the other end, Pinto had to scramble to his right to push away a dangerous ball from John five minutes later.
But Messi was looking menacing, running at the Benfica defence when given half a chance and curling a free-kick from distance which was well held by Artur.
After 83 minutes at the Nou Camp news filtered through from Scotland that Celtic had gone 2-1 up against Spartak Moscow, meaning a draw was not enough for Benfica to progress.
Before they could push forward, though, Barca created a golden chance to go ahead themselves.
Messi burst through down the right but was pushed wide by Artur, who then got back to his line just in time to save Messi’s effort.
The Argentinian then immediately pulled up clutching the back of his leg and was carried off on a stretcher, leaving the hosts to finish the game with 10 men having already made their three changes.
Unperturbed by the loss of their star man, teenage substitute Gerard Deulofeu embarked on a run at goal which ended in a drive flying inches wide of Artur’s right post.
Benfica struggled to get any sights of goal in the closing stages and, when they did come their way, they were passed up by substitute Oscar Cardozo and then Maxi Pereira in the 96th minute.