It was a bad night for Barcelona as Lionel Messi suffered an injury in a dull goalless draw against Benfica.
Tito Vilanova dropped record-chasing Messi and a host of other first teamers, as the Blaugrana were already assured of top spot in Champions League Group G, with second place the only issue remaining to be resolved. It would go to whichever club got the better result out of Benfica and Celtic, who took on Spartak Moscow.
The only regular starters featuring were David Villa, Carles Puyol, Alex Song and Adriano. Youngsters Rafinha, Sergi Roberto, Martin Montoya and Carles Planas were given run outs.
Benfica surprisingly dropped Oscar Cardozo and Nicolas Gaitan, but started former Barca B player Nolito.
The first chance went to Benfica’s Spanish Under-21 international Rodrigo, who shot narrowly wide. Striker Lima came equally close soon after with a close range header.
Barca fought back with Cristian Tello, who rounded visiting ‘keeper Artur but couldn’t adjust his feet quickly enough to get a shot away.
Lima threatened again on the half hour, the Brazilian’s goal bound shot palmed onto the post by stand in Barca ‘keeper Jose Pinto.
Pinto was then tested by Ola John, as the Eagles began to overrun their lacklustre hosts.
Barca immediately looked more dangerous when the game resumed after half time, Tello in particular impressing with his fast footwork.
Vilanova played his trump card in the 58th minute, bringing Messi on for Rafinha.
Gerard Pique was also summoned from the bench, but the game stagnated, Barca restricted to a couple of unusually tame Messi free kicks, Benfica seemingly content to settle for a point and bank on the Celtic Spartak result staying the same.
It was a dangerous ploy by Jorge Jesus’ side and one that back fired when news filtered through that Celtic had gone 2-1 up.
Things almost got worse for them when Messi rounded Artur but the custodian got back to stop the Argentine’s lobbed effort crossing the line. Messi went down holding his knee after that incident and was subsequently stretchered off.
Five minutes of injury time were given and finally Benfica began to pour forward again with a bit of conviction, but substitute Cardozo hesitated when played through, Maxi Pereira lashed a cut back over the bar, and the Portuguese club were eliminated.
Barcelona 0 Benfica 0
Barcelona: Pinto; Montoya, Puyol, Adriano (Pique 66), Planas; Thiago Alcantara, Song, Sergi Roberto; Rafinha (Messi 58), Villa, Tello (Deulofeu 78)
Benfica: Artur; Maxi Pereira, Luisao, Garay, Melgarejo; Matic, Andre Gomes, Nolito (Bruno Cesar 63); John, Lima (Cardozo 74), Rodrigo (Andre Almeida 75)
Ref: Moen (NOR)
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