By Graham Hunter at Camp Nou
FC Barcelona laid on a thrilling night of creative football to defeat FC Shakhtar Donetsk 3-0 in UEFA Champions League Group F, thanks to goals from Deco, Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto'o.
Only the brilliance of Shakhtar's outstanding goalkeeper, Jan Laštuvka, with fine saves to deny Ludovic Giuly, Eto'o and substitute Henrik Larsson, kept the scoreline so low. But after Deco's opener, Ronaldinho's second-half penalty clinched control of the match to leave Shakhtar with no way back.
It had shaped up as a testing match for Barça and their coach, Frank Rijkaard, who warned that Shakhtar "know their system so well that they almost play by remote control". The Ukrainian side have earned the reputation of being hard-working, confident counterattack specialists.
When Ronaldinho could only skewer an early free-kick high over Laštuvka's crossbar it appeared that Rijkaard's other warning, about the need for a massive amount of hard work, was going to prove correct. But the Dutchman's side moved up a gear with silky elegance and played 30 minutes of fine creative football in the first half.
Confidence flowed after the opening goal, scored by Portuguese international Deco, his second goal in two Champions League matches for his new club, but it took marvellous skill to create it in the first place. Ronaldinho and Eto'o exchanged passes allowing the Brazilian to cut open the visiting defence with a fine right-footed pass, before Deco crashed a rising drive in off the heel of Flavius Stoican.
Shakhtar's fightback started and ended during the first half, with a curving free-kick from their captain, Anatoliy Tymoschuk, skimming just past the right-hand post of Víctor Valdés. Tymoschuk was then robbed of the ball in midfield almost allowing Xavi Hernandéz's pass to Giuly to create a second goal.
Ronaldinho's marker, Marius Lewandowski, had picked up a 12th-minute booking for three consecutive fouls on the Brazilian, and that caution enabled the Barça playmaker to revel in a little extra space. In the 26th minute he received Deco's clever overhead flick, controlled it on his chest and then lofted a 'sand-iron' style chip into the path of Eto'o, who raced through the visitors' defence only for Laštuvka to produce a brave and well-timed diving block.
With what little creative possession the Ukrainian champions were enjoying, Zvonomir Vukic, playing at the attacking point of a midfield diamond, gave striker Ciprian Marica a fine chance to score but the young Romanian was off target with his fierce shot.
In the 52nd minute the visitors' hard work almost brought an equaliser. Vukic's clever pass outside full-back Giovanni van Bronckhorst allowed Marica to send in a perfectly aimed low cross, which Carles Puyol somehow blocked and then stole off the toes of Matuzalem.
Moments later it was Shakhtar keeper Laštuvka who was at the centre of some panicky moments. First the Ukrainian defied Giuly with a double save only metres from his goalline, the second block being of the highest possible quality and bravery.
Then Laštuvka totally read Ronaldinho's intention to chip the ball over him, as the Brazilian ran through on goal, but was ruled to have fouled Barça's striker as he attempted to clear. Having missed one penalty at Celtic Park on Matchday 1, Ronaldinho made no mistake this time. The third goal was the icing on the cake, Andrés Iniesta taking Larsson's pass, fooling the visitors' defence and leaving the goal gaping for Eto'o to score.