"Football isn't like boxing, you don't win points for being ahead early on, it doesn't matter if you dominate the game if you don't score, and that's why the team that's had the better game doesn't always win." Quoted in Champions magazine recently, UEFA technical director Andy Roxburgh could well have been speaking about the battle of the 2005 and 2006 UEFA Champions League winners at Camp Nou.
After starting a little slowly, FC Barcelona assumed total control of their first knockout round first-leg match against Liverpool FC when Deco headed them in front after 14 minutes. With their all-South American attack of Ronaldinho, Javier Saviola and Lionel Messi stretching Liverpool's defence across the pitch with their clever feints and flicks, they were almost back to the fulminating form they showed in last season's triumph. Ronaldinho was getting round the back of the Reds' rearguard, Messi was cutting in from the right and Saviola was combining effectively with Deco.
Liverpool - who featured central midfielder Steven Gerrard on the right, the right-footed Álvaro Arbeloa at left-back and John Arne Riise, a full-back, on the left wing - looked ragged and rushed, squandering precious possession on the few occasions they got it. But football is not like boxing; it is not even like American football or any code of rugby where possession and territory are usually rewarded with minor scores even if majors remain out of reach. The beauty of the beautiful game is that one goal can change everything.
And even ugly goals count. So it proved as Liverpool defied the run of play completely to equalise after 43 minutes. Craig Bellamy was Liverpool's villain-turned-hero as his seemingly tame header was fumbled in by Víctor Valdés with Dirk Kuyt following up just to make sure. Bellamy, fined for his bad behaviour at a Portuguese training camp last week, could not resist a cheeky golf-swing celebration. He became the second Liverpool player to score at Camp Nou, following in the footsteps of his Wales manager John Toshack back in 1976.
Suddenly, all of Barcelona's pretty, patient passing counted for nothing. Liverpool had artists as well as artisans in Xabi Alonso and Gerrard but their approach was epitomised by the returning Mohamed Sissoko. The Malian international sustained a serious eye injury at this stage of the competition last term but he has made no concessions in his play. He was everywhere in the second half, breaking up the play and one tackle on a stunned Ronaldinho after 64 minutes summed up his night.
Another bone-jarring challenge rocked Ronaldinho minutes later and Liverpool threatened a second when Gerrard's free-kick was saved by Valdés's feet midway through the period. Saviola and Messi emerged from their second-half torpor soon after, only to be denied by great blocks by Jamie Carragher and Arbeloa as both sides sought the deciding goal. Again clinical, it was Liverpool who delivered. Kuyt's effort was kept out but Bellamy calmly picked out his alleged nemesis of last week, Riise, who lashed the ball into the net with his usually underused right foot. Halfway through the tie, the holders are on the ropes.
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