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Barça battled their way to a 1-1 draw in their first ever Champions League game in Naples, and although it was no vintage performance, the result bodes well for the second leg back at Camp Nou in three weeks’ time.
A highly defensive Napoli took the lead against the run of play but on a night where the chances weren’t flowing for either side, Antoine Griezmann’s 57th minute equaliser means the Catalans are flying back from Naples with what could prove to be a decisive away goal in their pockets.
Tight, tight, tight
Catenaccio was alive and well at the San Paolo. Barça were playing all the football but the gateway into the final quarter was gridlocked by Napoli’s extremely tightly drilled backline of up to ten men.
Barça pushed and pushed all they could but nothing was giving and after half an hour of frustration in attack, they got caught out at the back.
Piotr Zieliński won the ball and laid up Dries Mertens for the finish. With their first semblance of an attempt on goal, the Italians were a goal to the good.
The game crawled on without major incident. Barça needed to find a spark of magic … but when the goal finally came, it was footballing simplicity at its best.
The boot of Sergio Busquets caught the usually flawless Napoli defence by surprise, delivering a delightful pass to Nelson Semedo. The Portuguese full back quickly snapped a killer pass to Griezmann that was and the game was back level.
Now Barça had the away goal, 1-1 was not such an attractive scoreline for the home side. They were forced to take a more proactive attitude and almost had it when Ter Stegen blocked José Callejón in a one-on-one.
The final minutes of the game were certainly the liveliest. No longer a chess match, this was football.
Barça were reduced to ten men with two minutes on the clock (plus five of injury time) after Arturo Vidal was booked twice during the same incident. He and Busquets (who was on a yellow card and got one) will both sit out the return leg at Camp Nou.
And there was further alarm when Gerard Piqué withdrew with an injury that may mean he has to miss Sunday’s Clásico. Let's hope not.
But there were no further developments as far as the football action was concerned, and everything is left to play for in the second leg.
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