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FC Barcelona coach Josep Guardiola was pleased to see Zlatan Ibrahimović silence his critics after the striker helped the UEFA Champions League holders to a first knockout round first-leg draw away to VfB Stuttgart.
Ibrahimović's 52nd-minute strike cancelled out Cacau's 25th-minute opener and gave Guardiola opportunity to rebuff any recent criticism of the 28-year-old Swedish international. "Strikers are judged by goals and he scored again, so surely that has to be good for everyone," said Guardiola. "The goal gave him the impetus he needed, and at the end of the day it's goals that count in football."
Stuttgart performed admirably in the opening period, defending stoutly against the Barcelona passing machine early on before seizing the initiative and creating a host of chances as the half progressed. Gerard Piqué insisted it was no surprise that the home side handed Barcelona such a stern test despite the visitors' billing as favourites.
"They made it this far because they have a good team," said the centre-back. "Obviously they were on their home pitch and had their own fans behind them, but they put us under a good deal of pressure in the first half and made it difficult for us to play our usual game."
Midfielder Andrés Iniesta concurred: "It's always tough playing in Germany. We knew it would be difficult, but we were poor at times." While the Blaugrana enjoyed the lion's share of possession, apart from a Lionel Messi attempt that Jens Lehmann turned on to the post shortly half-time, they only began to threaten once the scores were level. "In the second half we improved and at 1-1 the tie is firmly in our favour," continued the Spanish international.
Having been warned by Guardiola about the "German virtues" which could impede their progress in the competition prior to the first leg, Barça head into the second at Camp Nou on 17 March with a crucial away goal. Its author, Ibrahimović, believes it may go a long way towards securing a quarter-final berth. "I think it was a good result, absolutely," he said. "The away goal is important. It gives you the advantage in the second game."
With Barcelona on course to become the first club to successfully defend the UEFA Champions League title, Guardiola has full confidence in his star ensemble. "No team has managed to do it yet, but I think we performed well enough," added the 39-year-old. "Stuttgart are a good side, but we're confident of a result on home turf."
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