The rarity of a 0-0 draw at the Camp Nou resulted in SL Benfica's elimination from the UEFA Champions League following Celtic FC's victory over Spartak Moskva – and also came at the cost of an injury to FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi.
For Benfica, a night of Group G frustration was summed up in the final minute of stoppage time when Óscar Cardozo was put through, took too long over the opportunity, then helped create a second chance for Ola Josh who blazed over. The last kick of the match was also the Eagles' last of the season in this competition. Nor did this scoreless encounter end happily for group winners Barcelona, with substitute Messi being carried off after colliding with keeper Artur.
Even though the Portuguese side arrived with nothing other than outright victory on their minds the first half was still an unusual spectacle. Barça controlled nearly 65% of possession but without Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta and Sergio Busquets they did not dominate and the visitors poured forward. Had Jorge Jesus's men been three up by the break no one could have complained.
If Tito Vilanova's charges worked hard and offered some invention, they also required Carles Puyol, Adriano and keeper José Manuel Pinto to put out fires at the back. The pattern began when Benfica attacker Rodrigo ignored the unmarked Nolito but slid the ball wide when scoring seemed obligatory. Shortly afterwards Nolito crossed and Lima headed at goal, again without converting. Just after the half-hour Nolito again looked elegant in the build-up, before Lima took his pass, beat Adriano and bent a shot which Pinto tipped onto a post.
A comprehensive first 45 minutes for Benfica – needing to match Celtic's result at home to Spartak – finished with another fine service from Nolito which enabled John to sidestep Carles Planas and fire at goal – again the wrong side of the upright.
The home chants of "Messi, Messi" did not permeate Vilanova's half-time thinking, and as a reward for his faith in the starting XI, David Villa turned and shot dangerously while Christian Tello also threatened. However, Messi finally came on after 58 minutes and set about dragging opponents around. He essayed a pair of free-kicks, and Barça gradually reasserted themselves.
Yet when Gerard Piqué sent Messi clear with five minutes left Artur got a crucial touch at his feet and then, as the forward tried to lob the ball, he fell to the ground in pain. A high cost for Barcelona – but even more so for the Lisbon club who, ending up two points short of Celtic after their late goal in Glasgow, proceed to the UEFA Europa League.
©UEFA.com 1998-2017. All rights reserved.