Prague, Oct 24 (IANS) FC Barcelona jumped to an early lead over Slavia Prague on a goal by superstar forward Lionel Messi, but the Spanish-league giants struggled the rest of the way in a narrow 2-1 victory in Champions League group-stage action.
The patchy performance on both sides of the field at Sinobo Stadium in the Czech capital on Wednesday night will likely be a cause of concern for the five-time champions, who nevertheless find themselves atop Group F with seven points and closer to a berth in the tournament’s knockout stage, reports Efe news.
Barca employed a high press at the start of the contest and the strategy paid dividends immediately when Messi stole the ball and then scored off a pass from Arthur in the third minute.
But instead of building on that early momentum, Barcelona suffered through a lengthy stretch marked by poor midfield play and a lack of attacking presence up front.
Meanwhile, defensive lapses forced star goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen to impose his presence for the first time in the 20th minute by saving a shot by Slava left back Jan Boril. More heroics were then needed from the Barcelona net-minder later in the first half to stop attempts by Lukas Masopust and Peter Olayinka.
The hosts continued to be a threat after the break and were finally rewarded when Boril received a pass from Masopust in the area and, with two defenders converging on him, managed to poke the ball just inside the right post past Ter Stegen in the 50th minute.
That goal and a chance for Nicolae Stanciu four minutes later finally lit a flame under Barcelona, who scored the final goal of the match when Messi sent a free kick into the area and a shot by Suarez from a tight angle took a lucky bounce off the chest of Olayinka and went over the goal line in the 57th minute.
Less than 20 minutes later, Messi could have put the game out of reach but missed what was surely one of the easiest chances of his career from inside the six-yard box to give Slavia new life.
Down the stretch, the hosts were closer to netting the equaliser than Barça were to scoring an insurance goal, but the visitors managed to hang on for a 2-1 win.
In other action Wednesday in Group F, Inter Milan topped Borussia Dortmund 2-0. Those two teams are tied for second place in the group with four points, while Slavia is last with just one point.