Piqué the head boy as Barça edge past APOEL

FC Barcelona 1-0 APOEL FC
Gerard Piqué's first-half header made Luis Enrique's debut at this level a happy one but it was far from comfortable against the Cypriot champions.

Piqué the head boy as Barça edge past APOEL
Piqué the head boy as Barça edge past APOEL ©UEFA.com

Luis Enrique gives competition debuts to Marc-André ter Stegen, Sergi Samper, Sandro Ramírez and Munir El Haddadi
Gerard Piqué scores his ninth goal in the competition to ease Barça nerves
Excellent display by ex-Barça B custodian Urko Pardo keeps APOEL in the match
Raucous Cypriot fans provide wonderful backdrop to fine away performance
Next games: Paris v Barcelona, APOEL v Ajax (30 September)

Gerard Piqué's 28th-minute header ultimately made the difference as FC Barcelona claimed the matchday one spoils from a tougher than expected UEFA Champions League Group F contest against APOEL FC.

Pre-match, the Cypriot side's goalkeeper Urko Pardo had talked of happy memories of Josep Guardiola and Luis Enrique firing free-kicks and penalties at him when he was a Barcelona B player. That practice paid dividends in the 11th minute when he hurled himself full length to turn away a beautifully struck Lionel Messi set piece.

At the opposite end Marc-André ter Stegen, one of four competition debutants in the Blaugrana ranks, was a spectator – albeit a wary one. Bought from VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach partly for his sweeper-keeper skills and facility on the ball with his feet, he had to streak out of his penalty box and deftly head clear from one well-placed long ball as Stathis Aloneftis raced onto it.

The breakthrough, when it did come, was heartbreaking for away coach Giorgos Donis and his men. Careful and effective, while also ambitious, all over the pitch and over a quarter of the way through their test without looking stretched, APOEL were undone when Marios Antoniades needlessly lunged into Daniel Alves. After the full-back was booked, Messi curved in a deliciously tempting free-kick which Piqué, imposing himself on João Guilherme, nodded easily past Pardo for his ninth UEFA Champions League goal in 64 games.

Before half-time Neymar and Messi began to hint that they might cut loose. Two surging one-two passes between them caused danger, with one, six minutes ahead of the break, requiring Pardo to make a good save from the Argentinian international's fierce drive.

With the question perpetually hanging over how long they could keep up their terrifically high level of athletic work and mental concentration, APOEL coped increasingly impressively after the interval.

The pressing of forward Tomás De Vincenti, in particular, was first rate. And the visitors nearly got their reward when De Vincenti unleashed a shot at goal which Marc Bartra narrowly deflected wide. Then only Alves's athletic intervention prevented Vinicius scoring from Gustavo Manduca's right-wing cross. As it was, Barça marked coach Enrique's debut at this level with a victory.