FC Barcelona turned defeat into victory in Ukraine as two late goals from substitute Lionel Messi overhauled an FC Shakhtar Donetsk side seemingly destined for the UEFA Champions League Group C summit.
Instead, the Spanish team ended the night on a high, breaking the hearts of opponents who had led through Ilsinho's 45th-minute effort. It took a mistake by goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov to let in Barcelona – he spilled Bojan Krkić's tame cross-shot, allowing Messi to tap in. Then, after 94 minutes, Xavi Hernández played in the No10 to curl a shot irretrievably around Pyatov. The finish was cruel on Shakhtar, who had made light of their domestic struggles to match the Blaugrana stride for stride.
Show of strength
Their coach, Mircea Lucescu, had said he was a fighter, with no intention of quitting a club with one win from their opening nine league games. His Shakhtar team also appeared ready to flex their muscles: witness early challenges by Brandão and Fernandinho that flattened Daniel Alves and Yaya Touré. It was Thierry Henry, however, who might have delivered the initial blow of the Matchday 2 encounter when his run split the Shakhtar centre-backs but his attempt failed to trouble Pyatov.
In fact, the game's first true save came when Carles Puyol threw himself in the way of a Fernandinho strike. The same Shakhtar player had another opportunity close to the 25-minute mark as Brandão helped the ball on to the midfielder in the Barcelona box but he could only rifle it over. With referee Howard Webb determined to let play flow, the match settled. Mykola Ischenko read the danger to head clear a pass from Xavi that threatened to reach Touré. Pyatov got down to hold Alves's drive.
At the other end, Brandão's ball in from the left eluded Rafael Márquez and was turned on by Luiz Adriano for Ilsinho, whose powerful shot was deflected over by Barça keeper Víctor Valdés. Vyacheslav Shevchuk embodied the rise in confidence levels among the Ukrainian champions with a swashbuckling run that took him past Xavi and Gerard Piqué, before the latter's illegal challenge. There was no stopping Ilsinho on the stroke of half-time, though. When Piqué could only flick on a long punt forward by Shevchuk, the Brazilian playmaker brushed past Puyol before lifting the ball over Valdés.
Give and take
Barcelona's four-game winning streak – including Matchday 1, when Shakhtar also prevailed – was at risk. So was Shakhtar's lead. A free-kick from Alves soon after the restart brought a full-length diving save from Pyatov and Henry glanced a header wide. Still, a barnstorming one-man counterattack by Brandão brought relief. That sensation could have been more complete for Lucescu had Ilsinho kept his strike down after Luiz Adriano's good work.
Messi came on for Henry and sent Samuel Eto'o clear; yet despite the spectacle of Pyatov losing his footing before him, Eto'o prodded wide. Invitation spurned. Brandão continued to trouble the Barcelona back line. His marauding run won a free-kick which was floated across the box for Darijo Srna to volley against Valdés. Messi, Brandão's equivalent as the man most likely for Josep Guardiola's side, powered a header over, before fellow substitute Bojan darted between Srna and Igor Duljaj only to shoot into the side-netting. Bojan's next intervention would spark a remarkable comeback, however.