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FC Barcelona have got their 2023/24 Champions League off to a blistering start. Royal Antwerp never got a look-in at the Estadi Olimpic this evening as the Catalans eased their way to a 5-0 victory.
Just like against Betis at the weekend, this was an impeccable performance by Xavi’s side. Faultless. Immaculate.
The new faces, and some very young faces, all rose to the occasion and delivered the kind of performance that gives Culers very good reason to feel extremely optimistic about things to come.
This was just the start. But what a start!
Lightning strikes thrice
Antwerp’s induction to Champions League football was going a tough lesson. And Barça were in no mood to give the Belgians any time to adapt.
They looked stunned after João Félix knocked in the first goal after 11 minutes. Ping, pang, pong. Barça weaved together a series of lightning quick passes before the Portuguese striker struck. The visiting defence simply weren’t used to dealing with moves like that.
Ten minutes later, they were already three down. Frenkie de Jong’s pinpoint pass, João Félix now the provider, and Robert Lewandowski had scored for the 100th time in a European fixture.
With Antwerp shell-shocked, Barça pressed on for more and Raphinha’s cross bounded off the unfortunate Jelle Bataille’s arm and into the net. Barça led by three, and had only two shots on target to do it!
When Barça made it four in the 54th minute, the only surprise was that it had taken so long. Against a team that was now on a damage limitation exercise, they just couldn’t tuck another away until Gavi decided it was time to do something.
That shot was only ever going in one place. And that was in the direction of the Golden Boy’s first ever goal in the Champions League.
The Catalans wanted more. And João Félix wanted more. Raphinha whipped in the cross, and there he was at the far post to head home. 5-0. With two goals and an assist from the Atlético Madrid loanee. Not a bad return from his first ever UCL game in a Barça jersey.
Record breaking Yamal
That was Fèlix’s last contribution to his MVP-winning performance. Off he went (to a standing ovation, naturally) and on came Lamine Yamal, thus becoming the second youngest player ever to feature in the Champions League, and the youngest ever to do so for Barça.
Yamal was also in line to become the youngest player ever to score in the competition. And although he had two fabulous chances to do just that, it didn’t happen today. But he still has almost a whole calendar year to beat Ansu Fati’s record and it would take a brave man to bet against that.
And he wasn’t the only teenager making his Champions League bow tonight. Fermin Lopez was also on.
Antwerp have never scored a competitive goal on Spanish soil. And they had two amazing chances to do it. Two amazing Ter Stegen saves made sure they didn’t.
And even if they had scored, it would have been merely anecdotal. This utterly one-sided game was well and truly won. It was Barça’s best start to a European campaign since they blitzed Celtic 7-0 in 2016.
And it was the second consecutive 5-0 drubbing that Barça had dished out at the Estadi Olimpic. Any team that comes here this season will be feeling very, very worried. And with very good cause.
Shakhtar Donetsk 1-3 FC Porto
Porto also got off to a winning start in Group H. Wenderson Galeno needed just eight minutes to put his side ahead in Hamburg, where Shakthar are playing their home games this season. The Ukrainians levelled just five minutes later through Kevin Kelsy, but straight from the restart a second Galeno goal re-established Porto's lead.
Iranian striker Mehdi Taremi made it 3-1 on the half hour, but despite the breathtaking opening minutes there would be no further score.
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