FC Barcelona continued their recent fine form with a narrow victory in Denmark against Brøndby IF. The goal that secured the UEFA Cup third-round first leg win was sensational - Ronaldinho powering the ball in after his 64th-minute free-kick had come back off the crossbar.
The Spanish side, on the back of a fine recent run in the Primera División, started the game confidently, despite missing Patrick Kluivert and the cup-tied Edgar Davids, and could have taken the lead on several occasions. Dan Johansen nearly put through his own net when he sliced Michael Reiziger's cross wide, before Luis García saw a shot well-saved and Javier Saviola somehow managed to sky the rebound high over the crossbar.
Barcelona were not having it all their own way, with Jonas Kamper hitting a fine shot just over the bar for Brøndby, but Ronaldinho, who shot wide twice, was a constant menace, and Luis García was trying to cut in from the right at every opportunity.
As the first half wore on, chances were limited to long-range efforts, with Kamper again firing over and Saviola sending a right-foot shot high into the stand behind Karim Zaza's goal. Just before the break Ronaldinho was booked - an indication of how frustrated the Brazilian was at being unable to break the deadlock.
After a pensive opening to the second period Frank Rijkaard's team once more took the initiative, with Ronaldinho at the heart of everything. Twice he nearly sent Luis García clean through on goal before Brøndby hit back, Mattias Jonson sending a header wide.
But Ronaldinho was soon to get reward for his industry, with a goal that would have graced any occasion. Having been tripped on the edge of the box he sent in a dipping free-kick that crashed off the underside of the bar, and when it came back out there the Brazilian was to control the ball and shoot past the helpless Zaza into the top corner. It was a moment of pure inspiration.
Brøndby were clearly stunned by the goal and Barça surged forward to try and add a second, Phillip Cocu flicking Reiziger's cross wide with the outside of his left boot. Ronaldinho nearly had the last word too, but he could only direct a shot into the side-netting after substitute Marc Overmars' neat pass.
"I'm very pleased with the performance," said Rijkaard. "We agreed at half-time we had to get the goal to make our possession count.
Ronaldinho's goal was simply fantastic, but we have not qualified for the next round yet and will prepare properly for next week."
His opposite number, Brøndby coach Michael Laudrup, said: "We gave them an even game for an hour but after that you could see the difference in the way they treated the ball."