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Luis Enrique was able to celebrate his managerial debut in the Champions League with three points, but just as he had warned beforehand, the APOEL Nicosia presented a far tougher challenge than many had predicted. Despite dominating almost of the play, Barça only found the net once, a Gerard Piqué header after 27 minutes.
Ter Stegen pulled on the goalkeeper’s jersey for the first time in an official match, and the night also meant the first starts of the season for Bartra, Adriano, Samper, Xavi and Sergi Roberto. The starting eleven featured no fewer than nine changes with respect to the one that beat Bilbao at the weekend.
Piqué breaks deadlock
But although the Cypriots had the first chance when a De Vicenti header went over the bar, the first half was all about Barça possession and pressure. Messi tested former FCB academy keeper Urko Pardo first with a 12th minute free kick and Neymar also came close on two occasions. But otherwise there was little in the way of real danger for APOEL until another free kick by the Argentinian was sent floating into the area. Gerard Piqué made the most of his height to head home his 21st goal in a Barça shirt.
The last 15 minutes of the first half produced a series of examples of the wonderful understanding that has developed between Messi and Neymar, but the break arrived with no further score.
The second half brought much of the same. Barça in control, but failing to create much in the way of goalmouth action, the best chance falling to Neymar from a long-range assist from Xavi, but he failed to connect by a matter of millimetres. And APOEL issued the occasional warning that the game was by no means over, and if Dani Alves hadn’t been there to sort things out, a 61st minute counter attack by the Cypriots could have caused serious damage.
Munir did find the net after 68 minutes, but there was no arguing when the referee blew for offside, and it looked like the game was grinding to a halt before a flurry of incidents in the final minutes had the 62,832 strong crowd on the edge of their seats.
Sandro’s long range drive whizzed just wide of the APOEL post, a Messi attempt was deflected away by Carlao and seconds later the Argentinian pounced on a rebound from a Neymar shot and Mario Segio miraculously managed to get his body in the away and present what had looked like a certain goal.
Then, with seconds of injury time left, Manduca finally got APOEL’s first real shot of the whole game on target. Ter Stegen, who had had very little to do for 90 minutes, produced a stunning diving save.
And that’s how it ended, with Barça taking three hard earned points, and coupled with the 1-1 draw between Ajax and PSG, they go straight to the top of group F.
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