FC Barcelona turned on the style in Lisbon to keep up their 100% UEFA Champions League record under new coach Tito Vilanova with an impressive win against SL Benfica.
A goal early in each half from Alexis Sánchez and Cesc Fàbregas proved enough to secure a second successive Group G victory despite a late red card for Sergio Busquets, leaving Barcelona well placed to proceed from the group stage for the ninth straight season. Next up for the Spanish side is a visit from Celtic FC, winners tonight at FC Spartak Moskva who host Benfica in three weeks' time.
Amid a deafening swell of home support, Benfica had started fearlessly. Bruno César picked up Lima's pass, advanced into space and hit a firm left-foot shot that bounced wickedly in front of Víctor Valdés, forcing the goalkeeper to save with his legs.
So Barcelona's sixth-minute opener was a sharp jolt. Jordi Alba sent a slick ball behind the home defence for Lionel Messi to steal in, and Sánchez stretched ahead of Ezequiel Garay to touch the Argentinian's low cross into the net for Barça's 800th goal in UEFA competition.
Jorge Jesus's team came again and Nicolás Gaitán slipped a wonderful pass between Carles Puyol and Daniel Alves to put Lima through, only for Valdés's legs to deny Benfica.
Vilanova's charges gradually turned the screw, however. Sánchez turned provider when he adroitly found Messi in space by the penalty spot, but Artur dived to his left to superbly tip the low shot wide. Sánchez troubled Benfica constantly and almost scored again two minutes later, volleying over after neatly controlling a long Busquets pass on his chest.
Jesus sent on Carlos Martins for the second half, yet little changed. Within 90 seconds of the restart Messi again played in Sánchez, but his attempt looped past the far post after beating Artur. The intensity of Barcelona's possession was beginning to tell and in the 55th minute Messi sliced through the home defence before playing in Fàbregas to smash a left-foot effort into the corner of the net.
Again Benfica responded, Valdés being forced to turn an Eduardo Salvio drive from range around the post. There was to be no comeback, only another good Artur save preventing Messi's header crowning yet another memorable UEFA Champions League display with a goal.
Busquets's red card, following a tangle with Maxi Pereira, took a little of the sheen off Barça's evening, as did Puyol's late injury, yet on every previous occasion these sides have met in this competition the winners have gone on to lift the trophy. Few would deny a repeat is a strong possibility.
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