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"You have to see the draw as a good result," said VfB Stuttgart goalscorer Cacau after his side put in a determined performance to earn a share of the spoils with FC Barcelona on Tuesday.
The energetic striker opened the scoring after 25 minutes at the VfB Arena, a strike cancelled out by Zlatan Ibrahimović in the 52nd. "We were hoping not to concede a goal, but we can certainly live with that result," continued Cacau, who came top of the Player Rater poll as voted for by UEFA.com users. "I'm really pleased. I was really up for this match and was really looking forward to it."
With three weeks remaining until the second leg at Camp Nou on 17 March, Cacau knows the Swabians will need to "prepare extremely well" if they are to seriously challenge the holders for a place in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, while also recognising the benefits of "playing against a team that holds the ball so well". He said: "It's all good experience and hopefully we can learn something from them."
Goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, meanwhile, pointed out that it was a team display that ensured Stuttgart remain in contention: "We were very well-organised and everyone played a part in that." The experienced shot-stopper, who crucially denied Lionel Messi by tipping his left-footed shot on to the post shortly before the interval, was encouraged by the way his defenders kept the Catalan giants at bay. "If you can stop a team like Barcelona creating chances like we did tonight, it says a lot about your defensive capabilities," he said.
Nonetheless, Lehmann – sent off for Arsenal FC in the 2005/06 UEFA Champions League final against the Spanish club – was disappointed he and his team-mates were unable to cause an even greater surprise by claiming the victory: "It's a shame because we could have got the win, but obviously it wasn't meant to be."
Midfielder Sami Khedira saw things similarly. "When you look at the amount of chances we had in the first half, it's a pity we didn't manage to get the second goal," said the German international, who began to feel the effects of a tireless performance when he pulled up with cramp in the final stages of the match. "Barcelona had more possession, but we kept things tight at the back and managed to get forward ourselves on several occasions. In the first half we performed really well, but we ran out of steam towards the end."
Still, the 22-year-old Khedira remains optimistic that the Bundesliga outfit can claim one of the biggest scalps of the season by bringing an end to Barcelona's title defence. "Anything is possible in football," he said. "It's going to be very difficult, but we certainly won't be throwing the towel in."
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