Barcelona held to a hard-fought draw by battling Olympiacos
UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE - GROUP D (MATCHDAY 4)
|Olympiacos||0 - 0||Barcelona|
Barcelona’s seemingly inevitable passage to the last 16 of the Champions League was postponed temporarily by a determined Olympiacos team on Tuesday as the Greek champions held the Spanish giants to a goalless draw in an absorbing Group D clash in Athens.
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Ernesto Valverde’s in-form Blaugrana enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and scoring opportunities in an often frenetic and surprisingly open match at the Georgios Karaiskakis stadium in Piraeus, but the La Liga club could not find a way past home goalkeeper Silvio Proto.
The Belgian custodian made several fine saves, especially in the first half to deny a relatively quiet Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, in a match played amid a pulsating atmosphere generated by the boisterous home supporters.
In-form Barcelona retain the leadership of the group with 10 points, and have now extended their unbeaten run in all competitions to 15 matches, with 13 wins and two draws.
Olympiacos claimed the first point after four matches in what has been so far a barren campaign for Takis Lemonis’ team, who are also struggling in the Greek SuperLeague.
Barca coach Ernesto Valverde, who won three titles as coach of Olympiacos in two spells in 2008/09 and from 2010- 2012, received a rousing welcome from the home fans before kick-off, and was greeted by a giant banner opposite the dugouts which read “Ernesto thanks for everything”.
The Blaugrana, who were unbeaten in last 14 matches in all competitions before tonight, went into the match looking to book a place in the last 16. And they started at breakneck speed, with right-back Nelson Semedo racing clear before drawing a fine low save from Olympiacos goalkeeper Proto three minutes in.
Olympiacos, playing with attacking midfielder Kostas Fortounis in a lone striking role, were pushed back in the early stages, but the Greece international looked lively every time he got his foot on the ball to break forward.
There was a moment of panic in the visitors defence after 15 minutes when Omar Elabdellaoui went rampaging into the box to latch onto a through ball. But before the Moroccan could shoot ball was taken off the end of his toe by Samuel Umtiti’s perfectly-timed last-ditch tackle.
Barca came close to open the scoring in the 20th minute when Messi, who had been reasonably quiet until then, fired in a shot, but the Argentine’s effort was parried clumsily for a corner by Proto.
Messi’s striker partner Luis Suarez then missed Barca’s best chance of the half three minutes later, sending a low shot into the side-netting with the outside of his right-boot from a tight angle.
Messi’s first real run at the home defence came in the 28th minute when the Argentina star raced through a flurry of bodies into the box before getting a shot away which Proto saved smartly with his outstretched left boot.
Fortounis got a sight of goal on the half-hour mark for Olympiacos, but the 25-year-old’s rising shot sailed harmlessly over the crossbar.
Messi was starting to come into the game, running at the home defenders before having a shot blocked, before seeing a curling free-kick won by Suarez beaten away by Proto.
Fortounis, the home side’s key attacking outlet, should then have done much better when presented with a great chance from Alaixys Romao’s lobbed pass on a counter attack, but his volleyed effort with only Marc-Andre ter Stegan to beat was straight at the visiting keeper who gathered it comfortably.
The pattern of play continued into the second half, and it was Messi who was at the centre of things when Barca forged their best chance just after the hour mark. The diminutive forward, however, uncharacteristically scuffed a poor first-time effort woefully wide with the goal at his mercy after a neat one-two with Suarez.
Barca exerted more pressure as the second half wore one, but had little to show for their efforts apart from a couple of blocked and wayward shots by a below-par Luis Suarez, who also lobbed an effort on to the top of the crossbar with 10 minutes left.
Proto made two more stops from Leo Messi, one from a free-kick, and another from a powerful low shot to ensure the home fans could bask in a creditable draw against their illustrious opponents.