FC Barcelona closed in on a place in the third round of the UEFA Cup after a convincing first-round second-leg victory over Panionios NFC at the Gipedo Neas Smirnis stadium in Athens.
Luis García, Patrick Kluivert and Xavi Hernández got the goals in a match that Frank Rijkaard's side controlled throughout. Barça set the pace from the start against a Panionios side that looked to stifle the midfield with a 3-6-1 formation, but in reality the Greeks were often forced to play with five across the back as they struggled to contain Ronaldinho and, in particular, Luis García, who was a constant danger down the left.
For Panionios, Cristian Pino provided an attacking outlet, but once Barcelona had imposed themselves in midfield the Argentinian striker cut a lone figure as the Greek side defended in numbers. The Barcelona breakthrough was just a matter of time in coming and it duly arrived on 44 minutes, Luis García beating his marker, Marinho Dos Santos Giuliano, on the left and shooting powerfully beyond Jaroslav Drobny from just outside the area.
Kluivert adds the second
Worse was to follow for the home team shortly after the break. Kluivert, who had just replaced Javier Saviola, quickly made his presence felt, picking up a pass from Luis García on 47 minutes then firing past Drobny. From then on, the outcome was assured. Panionios threatened little and when they did forge a chance on 55 minutes, Arkadiusz Klimek’s header was straight at Rüstu Reçber in the Barça goal.
Xavi completes rout
Only Drobny kept the scoreline respectable, saving well from Xavi, Luis Enrique and Luis García in quick succession as the Catalan side pressed late on. But even the Czech goalkeeper could not keep out Xavi's accurate free-kick in added time to make the score 3-0 and the second leg on 27 November little more than a formality.