FC Barcelona turned in an impressive first-half display to put this UEFA Cup third-round tie beyond a stubborn Brøndby IF, coached by former Camp Nou favourite Michael Laudrup. Luis García and Phillip Cocu added goals to the 1-0 lead established by Ronaldinho in the first leg, before Per Nielsen scored a late consolation for the visitors.
Home coach Frank Rijkaard's scouts had warned him to expect a cautious game plan from the Danish team. Indeed, Laudrup's warning before the match that to "come and attack Barcelona would be suicidal" must have sealed Rijkaard's tactical thinking.
Therefore, despite a heavily congested midfield which was clogged up by Laudrup's 4-5-1 formation, which switched to 4-3-2-1 on the rare occasions when Brøndby ventured forward, players like Xavi Hernández, Cocu and Thiago Motta moved the ball swiftly and with assurance around the centre of the park, constantly probing for gaps.
Indeed, Motta caused the first flutter of interest with a tackle to rob Martin Retov in midfield and it took a fine penalty-box tackle from Brøndby captain Per Nielsen to prevent Javier Saviola scoring. From the corner Oleguer got the first header on target but Karim Zaza, star of the first leg, saved comfortably.
The breakthrough, after much prompting from the home midfield, came in the 31st minute. Xavi, whose form has been majestic since the January arrival of Edgar Davids, ineligible for the UEFA Cup, started things with terrific quick feet. After an interchange between him and Motta, Saviola was left to prod the ball between Nielsen and Asbjoern Sennels for Luis García to sweep into the penalty box and drive past Zaza.
Puyol to the rescue
That should have been game over, but instead the visitors responded impressively. Right-back Sennels went clear on goal and looked set to score until Carles Puyol's remarkable tackle saved the situation.
Zaza had to save twice more from Luis García before half-time but ended up picking the ball from the net anyway when Cocu had the simple task of heading in Giovanni van Bronckhorst's 43rd-minute corner.
With the job done, Rijkaard did not waste time in introducing Andrés Iniesta in place of the Brazilian Ronaldinho, who left to a standing ovation. In the closing stages, Brøndby gave their travelling fans something to cheer when, from a corner, Nielsen scored with a firm header.
However, Laudrup felt it could have been more. "Over the two matches, I am happy," he said. "But I was disappointed tonight.
Barça gave us space which we did not take advantage of."
'Not our best'
Rijkaard admitted: "This was not our best match, but it takes two to tango. Brøndby came and imposed their own game. We could take no risks, so it became a bit stale."