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FC Barcelona have won in Prague to go into a commanding position at the halfway stage of Champions League Group F. But as they did in their first two games, Slavia showed that they are by means the odd one out in the ‘Group of Death’.
Despite going into a very early lead, Barça were tested to the full and ended up clinching the three points by their skin of their teeth, and with a touch of fortune in the winning goal.
Indeed things could not have got off to a more promising start. It took Leo Messi just three minutes to make Slavia his 33rd Champions League victim and in doing so equal the record for scoring against the most teams in the competition and become the first man to score in 15 consecutive editions.
He began the move himself, and used Arthur to give and then receive the most perfect of assists to put Barça a goal to the good.
Optimists may have felt that was game over before it had hardly begun, but that proved to be far from the case. Perhaps Slavia needed time to settle their nerves in a game that the Czech capital has been talking about for weeks, because as the game progressed they became more and more dangerous.
Slavia hit back
They are a team that likes to attack and being a goal down meant they had now had no other choice. In the first half, Marc Andre Ter Stegen was the most talked about player on the pitch, making several saves and three particularly spectacular ones to keep Barça’s lead intact.
But five minutes after the restart they did it. Lukáš Masopust, very impressive in the first half, picked out Jan Bořil and Slavia were back level.
Stroke of fortune
Slavia were on fire. But when Barça were least at ease, Luis Suárez came to the rescue.
It was the strangest of goals. On the end of a Messi free kick, the Uruguayan shot from the most impossible of angles. Somehow or other, the ball bounded its way into the net and Barça were back in front.
But it wasn’t enough to break Suárez’s European away goal drought. It goes down on the official records as a Peter Olayinka own goal.
All credit has to go to Slavia. They were a wonderful opponent and never lost faith in their chances. They were quick, athletic and battled for every ball, and Barça were very much against the ropes as the red and white shirts pushed forward time and again in search of another equaliser.
Slavia had plenty of chances, and some very clear ones, but much to the frustration of the vociferous Eden Arena none found the net.
Barça come home from the Czech Republic with three very hard-earned points packed in their bags.
Top of the table
Barça now have seven points, three more than Inter Milan and Borussia Dortmund, who met at the Giuseppe Meazza this evening. The Italians, with just one point from their first two games, finally got things going with a 2-0 win, all thanks to a goal from Lautaro Martínez, who also missed a penalty, in the first half and another from Antonio Candreva to put the game to bed right at the end.
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