A goal from substitute Marc Overmars two minutes from time gave FC Barcelona the perfect start to the second group stage of the UEFA Champions League, as they beat Bayer 04 Leverkusen 2-1 at the BayArena in their opening game in Group A.
The Dutchman's strike preserved the Spanish side's perfect record in the competition this term and rounded off a fine counterattack by the away side, as Xavi Hernández broke up a Leverkusen attack on the edge of his own penalty area, and found Juan Riquelme, who in turn picked out Patrick Kluivert. The striker played the ball to substitute Overmars, who cut in from the left and fired a low shot inside Hans-Jörg Butt's near post, meaning all three of Louis van Gaal's replacements had made a significant impact.
Both sides had injury problems ahead of the game, with Leverkusen missing long-term casualty Jens Nowotny, Juan and Zoltán Sebescen, while Frank de Boer and Luis Enrique were the notable absentees for Barcelona.
It was Leverkusen who began the brighter, and they might easily have been ahead inside a minute. Hanno Balitsch saw a header from a free-kick palmed away by Roberto Bonano, but Thomas Brdaric was on hand to tap the rebound into the empty net, only for the goal to be disallowed for offside.
Tight first half
The first half was a tight affair, with much of the play compressed in midfield and neither side finding chances easy to come by. The home team were marginally on top although Barcelona came close to taking the lead against the run of play on the half-hour, as Fernando Navarro's header from Thiago Motta's corner was cleared off the line by Yildiray Bastürk.
Leverkusen seemed galvanised by the let-off and Bernd Schneider sent a free-kick just wide as he tried to surprise Bonano at the near post, but it was 1-0 in the 39th minute, as Dimitar Berbatov was allowed to leap unchallenged to head into the net from Marko Babic's corner.
The same two players nearly combined to double Leverkusen's advantage on the stroke of half-time, as Babic's perceptive through-ball sent Berbatov clear, but Michael Reiziger did just enough to knock the ball away, and Bonano was quickly off his line to shepherd the Leverkusen striker away from goal.
It was no surprise when Van Gaal made changes at the interval, bringing on young Argentinian pair Javier Saviola and Riquelme, and his adventure brought immediate reward. Diego Placente lost the ball on the halfway line and Saviola burst forward and exchanged passes with Riquelme before rolling the ball beyond Butt's outstretched hand to equalise.
It might have got even better for the visitors, as Kluivert was brought down by Placente inside the penalty area, but Riquelme's low spot-kick lacked power and Butt dived to his right to gather at the second attempt.
Both sides continued to press forward at every opportunity, but it seemed the best chance of a winning goal had gone when Kluivert put a free header wide from a corner with five minutes remaining, but then Overmars struck.