Diego Ribas scored one of the great Champions League goals, as Atletico Madrid held out for a 1-1 draw against Barcelona at Camp Nou.
Diego Costa passed a late fitness test to start for the capital side as they looked to get one over their Liga neighbours and claim a famous European victory. David Villa started alongside his fellow Spain international, with the Blaugrana opting to go for Neymar, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi up top.
And it was Diego Simeone’s men who got off to the brighter start – pressing the Catalans with their usual high intensity. Filipe Luis pressured Neymar into giving the ball away on the left-hand side, and an eventual move down that wing ended with Villa striking at goal – against his old club though, the veteran goalscorer couldn’t find the target.
The ex-Valencia man was at it again soon after, but this time, he should have done a lot better with the chance. A poor kick from Jose Pinto found Juanfran, who passed to the 32-year-old, but he could only fire wide from 12 yards.
The home team were finding it difficult to break down the Atleti defence, and it wasn’t until the 23rd minute that they finally brought Thibaut Courtois into the game. A cross from Xavi found Neymar, but the Brazilian’s header was very tame.
They finally came into life however, soon after that. A superb dribble from Messi ended with the former Ballon d’Or winner finding Iniesta, but the Spain midfielder’s shot from inside the area was blocked superbly by a flying Diego Godin.
The Camp Nou outfit were now dominating their League rivals, and things got even worse for the away side on the half hour mark when talisman Diego Costa limped off with what looked like a hamstring injury.
Barca were getting closer and closer to an opening goal now, but first Marc Bartra, and then Messi, missed the target with headers.
After the break, Tata Martino’s men continued to dominate possession, boasting an impressive 65 per cent of the play.
However, once again, they found it tough to create any clear-cut chances, with the capital outfit only granting them shots from outside the area.
And the Blaugrana paid for that lack of creative spark with nearly an hour gone. Diego, with the ball on the right-hand side, rifled an unexpected shot from 30 yards, and watched as it flew past Pinto for one of the best goals of the season.
Still Barca bombed forward, looking, now, for an equaliser. Sergio Busquets forced Courtois into a diving stop and Messi headed wide again – still though, the ball just wouldn’t cross the goalline.
They kept plugging away, and eventually, Barca got the goal they craved. A delightful pass from Iniesta found Neymar, who opened up his body a curled an effort into the right-hand corner from 12 yards.
It was back against the wall for Atleti now, but with 20 minutes remaining they remained solid through a mixture of sturdy defending and outstanding goalkeeping from Courtois. The Belgium international stopped efforts from Iniesta and Messi as the visitors held out for the advantage going into next week’s second leg.
Barcelona 1-1 Atletico Madrid
Scorers: Neymar 70 (B); Diego 56 (AM)
Barcelona: Pinto; Alves, Piqué (Bartra 11), Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Xavi, Cesc (Alexis 68); Neymar, Messi, Iniesta.
Atletico Madrid: Courtois; Juanfran, Godín, Miranda, Filipe Luis; Gabi, Tiago, Koke, Arda Turan (Rodriguez 79); Villa (Jose Sosa 70), Diego Costa (Diego 29)
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