FC Barcelona maintained their 100 per cent record to qualify for the second group stage but were forced to struggle for a 1-0 victory against a determined FC Lokomotiv Moskva in their UEFA Champions League Group H encounter at Camp Nou.
A powerful header from captain Frank De Boer was all that separated these two teams on the night, but Louis van Gaal’s side were fortunate not to concede in an impressive spell from the Russian visitors in the opening stages of the second half. With Club Brugge KV beating Galatasaray SK 3-1 in the section's other game, Lokomotiv remain in contention.
The first half proved frustrating for Barcelona. The game was played at something of a gentile tempo, and they struggled to fashion any clear-cut chances against a Lokomotiv side who were prepared to sit and defend.
The hosts certainly dominated possession, and Javier Saviola was lively upfront. Combined with the excellent promptings of Juan Riquelme, it seemed inevitable that the home faithful would be celebrating victory.
Corners go to waste
However, they did not take advantage of the numerous corners they won, and Lokomotiv’s defensive trio of Sergei Ignashevitch, Dmitri Sennikov and Oleg Pachinine proved more than capable in the air.
Xavi goes close
Xavi Hernández nearly gave the hosts the lead after 14 minutes, sending a stinging drive from 20 metres just wide of Sergei Ovchinnikov’s right-hand post. Patrick Kluivert had an even better chance ten minutes later, surging on to a Xavi through-ball, only for his finish to lack sufficient power to beat the goalkeeper.
Yet these were isolated efforts from the shot-shy hosts in the first period, and their lack of a killer instinct nearly cost them dear as half-time approached. Lokomotiv had been feeding off scraps, but found themselves gifted a great opportunity by the misplaced pass of Fernando Navarro on 45 minutes. Frank de Boer slipped, and Julio Cesar found himself one-on-one with Roberto Bonano. The keeper justified his recall with a smart save.
Obiorah twice denied
Van Gaal needed to inject some urgency into his players at half-time, but it was Lokomotiv who came out fighting. James Obiorah had two excellent chances to give his side the lead, but was denied on each occasion.
First, on 57 minutes, Obiorah scampered on to a Ruslan Pimenov cross. He opted to volley first time, and it floated over Bonano and on to the bar. Then, nine minutes later, he rounded Bonano as he rushed out of his goal, only for Carles Puyol to make a magnificent clearance with his chest when a goal seemed inevitable.
With Lokomotiv looking ever more likely to score, it was a surprise when a Riquleme free-kick from the right was met by De Boer. The goal swung the game back in Barça's favour and they held on until full time. The result was harsh on a disciplined Lokomotiv, who will now struggle to reach the next stage. Barcelona are already there.