A Ronaldinho hat-trick paved the way for FC Barcelona to mark their 150th European Champion Clubs' Cup game with a Group C victory against Udinese Calcio.
Leading the way
Ronaldinho got Barça going with a 13th-minute free-kick before Felipe briefly interrupted the Brazilian magician's one-man show with a 24th-minute leveller. Once the home talisman had restored the lead, however, there was no way back for the Italian side and Ronaldinho completed the scoring from the spot, by which time Deco had also converted a stunning set-piece and Vidigal had seen red for Udinese.
Rested at the weekend along with Deco, Ronaldinho marked his return in style, curling a delightful free-kick past Morgan De Sanctis in the Udinese goal from 22 metres. Udinese's display in the opening minutes had belied their status as Champions League debutants as they looked confident both in defence and attack. The visitors earned their reward when Valerio Bertotto's corner was met at the far post by Felipe who volleyed in from close range.
Udinese had not, however, counted on Ronaldinho hitting such superb form and the forward again underlined his importance to the Barça cause by stroking them back in front with a well-taken second goal after 31 minutes. After Felipe was too casual in possession, Lionel Messi stepped in to steal the ball and release Samuel Eto'o down the right. The Cameroonian broke to the by-line and delivered a cross which evaded the goalkeeper and two defenders and fell invitingly for Ronaldinho to side-foot into the far corner.
Although the Udinese defence looked strong in open play, Barcelona once more showed their ability from set-pieces five minutes before the break. Another free-kick was won on the edge of the area, although this time Ronaldinho left it for Deco and looked on in delight as the Portuguese international lifted his shot over the wall and beyond De Sanctis. The home crowd and team were obviously buoyant, the atmosphere bringing the best out of Messi on his first start for the Blaugrana this term.
The Argentinian prodigy, who gained Spanish citizenship the day before the game, demonstrated why he is so highly regarded at Camp Nou by embarking on two powerful runs and displaying a number of neat touches as the Spanish champions swarmed forward. Udinese's Portuguese midfielder Vidigal had been booked for a 12th-minute foul on the 18-year-old and saw red three minutes after the restart for upending Juliano Belletti.
The reduction in numbers forced Udinese coach Serse Cosmi to make his second change of the night, replacing striker Antonio Di Natale with Stefano Mauri, with the substitute dropping into midfield. Irrespective of the scoreline, the massed ranks of visiting fans were vociferous from the upper echelons of this famous stadium, creating an impressive atmosphere. Driven on by that support, the Italian side held firm and limited Barça to shots from outside the box while even managing a few counterattacks themselves after breaking down home raids.
The final word, though, went to Ronaldinho as he won a penalty after being fouled by Felipe, picked himself up and confidently beat De Sanctis from the spot. As the Brazilian left the field to rapturous applause, Cosmi was waiting to collect his shirt and keep a promise to his son.