FC Barcelona overcame early adversity to register a 3-1 victory against VfB Stuttgart and round off their Group E campaign in fine style.
Despite slipping behind to Antonio Da Silva's early goal the Catalan outfit rallied and replied with goals from Giovani Dos Santos, Samuel Eto'o and Ronaldinho. It underlined Barcelona's position at the Group E summit though Stuttgart, who started the day with no chance of climbing off the foot of the section, played their admirable part in a competitive game. They will now focus on the Bundesliga, however, while Barça head towards next week's last-16 draw.
The early blows came thick and fast for the home team, who were dealt a hit even before kick off when Deco suffered a twinge and was ruled out of the match. It did not stop when the referee blew his whistle either, and, standing in for the suspended Frank Rijkaard, Johan Neeskens saw his side fall behind after just three minutes. Ewerthon made a habit of playing well at Camp Nou during his spell at Real Zaragoza and picked up where he left off this evening as he broke, drawing a foul from Rafael Márquez just outside the penalty area. Da Silva stepped up, and his left-footed strike rattled the woodwork before bouncing in off the unfortunate Albert Jorquera.
Deputising for Víctor Valdés, it was the worst of starts for the goalkeeper but any fears of more pressure were quickly vanquished as Barcelona, despite being a little off-form, began to dominate. Samuel Eto'o could have soon restored parity when he capitalised on a misplaced Alexander Farnerud pass but Raphael Schäfer denied the usually clinical Cameroon striker. Schäfer had to repeat his excellence twice in the eleventh minute, keeping out Deco's replacement Xavi Hernández and then Giovani as the chances multiplied.
Matching their team's defiance the visiting German fans made a good job of dominating the atmosphere, but Barça's work rate was gaining them an advantage on the pitch. Eidur Gudjohnsen was pivotal, winning tackles, releasing shrewd passes and demanding effort. Ronaldinho responded and nine minutes before half-time he dispossessed Arthur Boka and delivered a raking cross that hit Giovani and went in.
The second half brought harsh justice for Stuttgart. Despite great industry and flowing passing, they slipped behind just before the hour. Ronaldinho's redeployment in midfield brought more space for the wide men and Xavi capitalised on 57 minutes, driving forward and threading the ball to Eto'o who gratefully fired in his first UEFA Champions League goal in 15 months. The home side began to cut loose and a lovely combination between Xavi, substitute Andrés Iniesta and Sylvinho ended with the wing-back crossing for Ronaldinho to guide in Barcelona's third in the 67th minute. The visitors continued to press, but a night of little return for their hard work was concluded when Ewerthon's fine shot from 20 metres rebounded back off the bar