Barca struggle to 1-0 win over APOEL

Barcelona struggled to overcome a resilient APOEL 1-0 at Camp Nou and had Gerard Pique’s 28th minute header to thank for all three points.

Boss Luis Enrique made nine changes to the Barca team that faced Athletic Bilbao at the weekend. Goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen came in for his debut in place of Claudio Bravo, who dropped to the bench, whilst defensive midfielder Sergi Samper, 19, made his senior bow and veteran Xavi got his first start of the season.

Munir El Haddadi, Marc Bartra, Pique, Adriano, Sergi Roberto and a fit-again Dani Alves were also added to the team, with Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta both rested and among the substitutes.

APOEL had former Barcelona B goalkeeper Urko Pardo returning to his old club and Republic of Ireland striker Cillian Sheridan leading the line.

As expected the hosts dominated the early possession as the Cypriots threw plenty of yellow shirts behind the ball, with the first real chance arriving on 12 minutes when Pardo beat away Lionel Messi’s free-kick from the edge of the box.

Barca again went close nine minutes later, Neymar firing across goal after good work from Messi, before Ter Stegen needed to be quick off his line to head away a dangerous APOEL through ball.

Nonetheless, on 28 minutes Pique rose well at the near post to head his side into the lead from a Messi free-kick and thus calm any nerves.

Five minutes before the break Messi was again in the action, this time seeing Pardo palm away his powerful strike from inside the area, but it was the final meaningful chance of a largely frustrating first half.

After the restart it was much of the same, the Blaugrana continuing to keep the ball and the visitors camped on the edge of their box. Despite Neymar having a couple of decent half chances, APOEL were beginning to look more confident, De Vincenti and Sheridan continuing to work hard up front and Carlao looking solid at the heart of the defence.

Munir had a goal disallowed for Barca on 68 minutes, the linesman’s flag rightly raised early for offside as he nodded in from a few yards out, and it proved the youngster’s last contribution as he was replaced by Sandro Ramirez.

However, in a match devoid of much quality and clear-cut chances, APOEL managed to keep Barca opportunities to a minimum until Sandro had an effort that whistled beyond the far post and Neymar spurned a good opening in the final minutes.

Even so, although the second goal proved elusive, Luis Enrique will be glad to have got the Champions League campaign off to a wining start.

Barcelona 1-0 APOEL

Pique 28 (B)

Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Alves, Bartra, Pique, Adriano; Xavi (Iniesta 60), Samper, Sergi Roberto (Rafinha 79), Munir (Sandro 69), Messi, Neymar

APOEL: Urko Pardo; Andoniades, Mario Sergio, Amorin, Carlao; Morais, Vinicius, Gomes (Manduca 61), Aloneftis, De Vincenti (Charalambides 79); Sheridan (Djebbour 75)

Referee: Deniz Ayketin (Germany)

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