FC Barcelona established themselves as favourites to win UEFA Champions League Group E with a 2-0 victory against Rangers FC which was sealed by a five-star performance from Ronaldinho.
The No10 had a creative hand in the Blaugrana's two first-half goals, scored by Thierry Henry and Lionel Messi, and supplied immense creativity throughout. Only a night to remember from Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor kept the scoreline to a minimum in this top-of-the-table encounter.
Frank Rijkaard had asked his players to impose themselves with crisp play and, ideally, to score early. His esteem for Scottish club football, as well as the teams' goalless draw in Glasgow on Matchday 3, meant the Dutchman wanted Barcelona to prevent the opposition from breaking up their rhythm. His wish was granted when Henry struck his 44th UEFA Champions League goal after only six minutes.
Ronaldinho caused the initial danger by wriggling free on the left wing. His cross was met by the diminutive Messi whose header back across goal beat goalkeeper McGregor, rebounded back off the far post, and was touched in by Henry – for his second goal in as many games – as the Frenchman slid in with defender Carlos Cuéllar. From that moment Barcelona's play became as incisive and high-tempo as at any time this season, though the visitors refused to wither.
In Spain, Scottish sides have a reputation for resorting to direct football but Rangers' response to going one down flew in the face of such stereotyping. Barry Ferguson, Alan Hutton and Lee McCulloch all managed possession of the ball with economy and Rangers weathered the storm. Nonetheless, there were moments of menace. An electrifying and mazy run from Messi was thwarted by David Weir, only for Andrés Iniesta to take the loose ball in his stride and shave Rangers' left-hand post with a curling shot.
Rangers' 4-1-4-1 formation, built to withstand attrition but maintain parity, made it difficult to seek the equaliser. DaMarcus Beasley increasingly pushed forward to accompany Daniel Cousin up front, yet the next score always seemed likely to come from the irresistible hosts. Ronaldinho took charge, first drawing a top-class save from McGregor just before the half-hour, then helping his team to double their lead. Half-time loomed when the Brazilian jinked from left to right, played a wall-pass with Messi and shot hard at goal. McGregor saved again but the Argentinian gobbled up the rebound and made it 2-0.
Barça offered no respite in the second half and peppered McGregor's goal. The overlapping Carles Puyol's right-wing cut-back found Xavi Hernández on the edge of the area yet his strike flew wide. Then the same midfielder threaded a pass through a wall of defenders for Messi to slip the ball between Weir's feet and shoot against the excellent McGregor's outstretched legs.
Ronaldinho's man-of-the-match display would end without the goal it merited, but when he was withdrawn to give 17-year-old Bojan Krkić more UEFA Champions League experience, it was to a standing ovation. Rangers substitute Jean-Claude Darcheville registered their only meaningful shot on target just before full time, as Walter Smith's men departed to warm applause from their fans yet with no points to show for their efforts.