When the UEFA Champions League comes to town then whether FC Barcelona are on good form or not a home victory usually accompanies it. So it proved on Matchday 1 as Xavi Hernández's late third sealed a deserved Group C victory for Josep Guardiola's side after a Tonel goal for Sporting Clube de Portugal had made the Camp Nou faithful sweat.
Barça had not scored twice since the 13 August defeat of Wisla Kraków in qualifying for this competition, yet recovered from some early hesitancy in front of goal to take a 2-0 lead thanks to a header from Rafael Márquez (21) and Samuel Eto'o's penalty on the hour. Sporting responded through Tonel in the 72nd minute, yet the visitors rarely looked like threatening before Xavi scored a deserved third to ensure a perfect start in Group C for the pool favourites.
The fluency and invention of Barça's first-half play not only stemmed from the quality of their players but the tactical instructions from coach Guardiola. A student of Johan Cruyff's 3-4-3 system which produced the 'Dream Team' and yielded a first European Champions Clubs' Cup in 1992, Guardiola applied his knowledge to his team's recent scoring problems – giving Daniel Alves licence to surge forward from right-back and replicate that formation.
The Brazilian linked inventively with Lionel Messi, leaving Sporting looking overwhelmed and with only a rasping free-kick from ex-Barça midfielder Fàbio Rochemback to show for their first-half diligence. Meanwhile, Messi dictated the show. Dancing past defenders became a habit and his mazy run after robbing Marat Izmailov in the 18th minute left him beating two more men and curling a lovely shot just past the post. Further near misses from Thierry Henry and Andrés Iniesta were signals that Barcelona were about to strike and so it proved.
Márquez arrived unmarked at the far edge of the area to meet Xavi's 21st-minute outswinging corner, and although Seydou Keita tried to help the ball in, the Mexican's header beat Rui Patrício unaided. By the time the interval arrived Barça's only crime was overelaboration in the penalty box, without which their lead would have been greater. The crime of missing chances often leads to punishment and five minutes after the break Sporting almost enforced the rule. Rochemback's corner dropped between two defenders and at the feet of Tonel but the Portuguese centre-back miscontrolled and lost a golden chance. It did not take the home side long to make him further rue that miss, Eto'o picking himself up after being felled by Tonel to dispatch the spot-kick with minimum fuss.
With little to lose Sporting brought on Miguel Veloso and allowed João Moutinho to play further forward. The dividend came when Veloso's left-footed free-kick from the right split the home defence and Tonel's raised foot stabbed the ball past Víctor Valdés. Nevertheless, Barça's lead should have been more firmly established before Iniesta crossed into the box where his fellow UEFA EURO 2008™ hero Xavi arrived with perfect timing to seal a good night's work