FC Barcelona underlined exactly why they are among the favourites to win the UEFA Champions League this year with a thoroughly professional 2-0 victory at St James' Park which ended Newcastle United FC's hopes of progressing from Group A.
Second-half goals from Patrick Kluivert and Thiago Motta did the damage for the visitors - but in essence Newcastle were their own worst enemies, playing stuttering football and falling behind following a defensive error by Titus Bramble.
An hour of a fast-flowing game had elapsed when Bramble, in no serious danger, held on to the ball for too long, allowing Kluivert to sneak up behind him, gain possession and roll the ball past Shay Given. Worse was to follow 15 minutes later, when a leaping Motta latched on to Juan Riquelme's free-kick to touch the ball in off the underside of the Newcastle crossbar and seal all three points.
The home side had started positively and created two chances to score within the first five minutes, Craig Bellamy missing on both occassions - first stabbing a low shot wide of target then ballooning an effort high into the stands.
As Barcelona took time to settle, Newcastle won an eighth-minute free-kick on the edge of the opposing box. Alan Shearer, who had two attempts to score after Xavi Hernández was cautioned for encroachment, failed to drill the ball through the defensive wall. Slowly but surely the visitors came into the game and on 17 minutes the hard-working Fabio Rochemback lifted his shot over both the advancing Shay Given and the Newcastle goalkeeper's crossbar when he could easily have scored.
Despite Barça's superior style and patient approach, the game's best chances fell to Newcastle, who hit the post after 19 minutes. Shearer ran on to Nolberto Solano's pass before unselfishly squaring for Bellamy, who displayed the profligate finishing which was to hamper him all night as he failed to connect properly with his shot and Barça goalkeeper Víctor Valdés somehow turned the Welshman's close-range effort on to the post.
Rochemback tested Given, who was outstanding throughout, with a rising drive on 27 minutes at one end and Laurent Robert went close with a sizzling 30-metre free-kick at the other but Newcastle always found it hard to break down a relaxed-looking Barcelona side. After Bramble's error, Bellamy twice missed good chances, watching in horror as his lob dropped narrowly wide on 61 minutes, then grinning ruefully after volleying over the bar from 16 metres.
The second goal killed off the home side and although Bellamy wasted two more opportunities and Kieron Dyer was denied from six metres out, a third goal for Barcelona looked most likely. But when Gerard López strode clear with just Given to beat in added time, the goalkeeper made a fine save to ensure he could leave the field with his head held high. As can his team-mates following an encouraging stint in the Champions League.