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FC Barcelona have lost to Internazionale for only the third time ever in a tension-packed encounter that was ultimately decided by a Hakan Çalhanogluo goal just before the break. But Xavi and his side will be returning from Milan knowing that they deserved a lot more.
From start to finish, it was the blaugrana who took the initiative, dominating the midfield and doing everything they could to work the ball into dangerous positions. But the home side’s catenaccio tactics were working to perfection. And when they didn’t, fortune always seemed to be on the Italians’ side, including Pedri’s equaliser being disallowed for a fortuitous handball and many might argue to have been a legitimate penalty claim being denied in the dying moments of the game.
All eyes on Spotify Camp Nou
With Bayern Munich, who beat Viktoria Plzen 5-0 earlier in the day, now looking certain to be one of the two qualifiers with three wins out of three, Inter have drawn first blood in what seems to be a direct head-to-head between the Catalans and Italians for a place in the last sixteen.
The sides meet again in eight days’ time at the Spotify Camp Nou. That’s a game Barça were always going to need to win. They need to win it more than ever now.
Against the run of play
It certainly was a peculiar match. Particularly in the early stages of the game, Inter almost looked resigned to the fact that Barça were the better team. But sat deep in their own half, their defending was rock-solid, quickly neutralising every Barça attempt to find a way through. There wasn’t really a proper blaugrana chance in the first half.
Somewhat bizarrely, considering Barça’s domination, all of the big plays of the first 45 minutes were at the other end. Ter Stegen turned an extraordinary long-range strike from Çalhanogluo over the bar, a penalty claim for an Eric Garcia handball was rejected due to offside in the build-up, the linesman’s flag was up when Joaquín Correa did score…
And just before half-time, Çalhanoglu did have Ter Stegen beaten. A finely-placed strike from the edge of the penalty arc and an Inter side that may not have played the best football, but had a game plan that worked, led 1-0.
It looked like Barça had equalised midway through the second half when Inter keeper Andre Onana made a hash of Ousmane Dembélé’s cross. The ball landed at Pedri’s feet, and wham!
But the VAR room had spotted that in the midst of all the confusion, the ball had stroked Ansu Fati’s hand. It was a cruel call, but the goal didn’t stand.
Barça again seemed to have finally got the reprieve the warranted when Denzel Dumfries appeared to have handled in the area. The verdict from VAR was no. A lot of Culers will disagree.
Catenaccio wins the night
It was a tense, sometimes bad-tempered final half hour, with both managers’ names among those going into the book. Everything was happening in or around the Inter area as Barça pressed and pressed... But no matter what they tried, there was always a blue and black shirt there to scupper their plans.
Inter won tonight. But there is still a second act to come. At Spotify Camp Nou on Wednesday at 9pm CEST, Barça have a score to settle. And it would be nice if Lady Luck could shine on them a little more brightly than she did tonight.
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