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FC Barcelona put on a magnificent display in front of the home fans in their final Champions League group stage match as Ousmane Dembélé notched the team’s only goal in a scintillating 1-1 draw. Tottenham got a late equalizer from Lucas Moura to go through to the last 16, which Barça qualified for after matchday four, earlier than any other team in the tournament.
Barça goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was named man of the match after turning in a sublime performance in goal, turning away no fewer than four certain goals before Tottenham finally broke through.
Long since qualified
With the Catalans having long since wrapped up first place in the so-called group of death, and with little to play for other than pomp and pride, Barça manager Ernesto Valverde predictably made wholesale changes to the starting lineup. Leo Messi, Gerard Piqué, and Marc-André Ter Stegen were all relegated to the bench, while striker Luis Suárez did not even suit up.
But Barça’s eleven that took the field were no slouch, either, with a bevy of first-rate internationals filling the void and showcasing the team’s extraordinary depth.
Before the game was even eight minutes old, Dembélé came up with a loose ball near the halfway line, immediately shook off a defender and made off like a cartoon rocket deep into Spurs territory. There, he deked another defender, and beat the keeper with aplomb.
The early strike by Dembélé was a huge blow to Tottenham, which came into the game knowing that a win would guarantee them a spot in the last 16 — just ahead of Inter Milan on a head-to-head away-goals tiebreaker — regardless of what transpired in the other match between the Italians and PSV Eindhoven.
Minutes after Barça’s goal, however, Spurs fans everywhere must have breathed a sigh of relief, as PSV took a 1-0 lead at Inter, meaning Tottenham were back on track to move on to the knockout stages.
Tottenham’s best chance in the first half came in the 32nd minute, when Cillessen stoned Spurs left-winger Heung-Min Son in a one-on-one at the doorstep.
In the second half, Sergio Busquets came in for Ivan Rakitic, and in the process made his 100th career Champions League appearance. Messi then subbed in for Munir El Haddadi just after the hour mark.
Cillessen, meanwhile, continued to impress, making three perplexing stops to deprive the Spurs of what seemed to be sure equalizers.
With 15 minutes to play at Camp Nou, it became known that Inter had tied their game, meaning the Spurs were provisionally eliminated, and had to find a way to score in order to make it through.
Then, it came. Tottenham finally notched the tying goal in the 85th, as Harry Kane was met by a trio of Barça defenders on the left wing, yet managed to slide a pass underneath to Moura, who redirected past Cillessen.
With the match in injury time, and the throngs of Spurs fans getting louder with each passing second, there was an overwhelming sense they had done it. The final whistle came, and a minute later, news of the Inter–PSV draw was confirmed. Tottenham were through.
Barça, however, had nothing to fret about, having put in a remarkable performance in a match that carried little consequence. Accordingly, both squads remained on the field and applauded their fans as a scintillating night of Europe’s finest football was in the books.
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