UEFA Champions League: Barcelona Bounce Back in Style, Steamroll Panathinaikos
After a shocking defeat to Hercules on Saturday, Barcelona produced a scintillating display to beat Panathinaikos, their first opponents in this year's Champions League, 5-1.
Messi scored a brace and David Villa, Pedro, and Daniel Alves scored one each. The Greeks can consider themselves lucky only to have conceded five goals: Barcelona missed a lot of great chances. Even Messi missed a penalty, which kept him from scoring his second hat trick of the season.
For Panathinaikos, the visit to the Camp Nou came at the worst time possible. Barcelona, hurt in their pride and eager for revenge, was simply unstoppable and too much for the Greek to handle.
Barcelona started dominating and creating chances from the start but, surprisingly, Panathinaikos took the lead in the 20th minute. In the Greek's first and only attempt at goal during the whole match, Barcelona's defense was caught sleeping and Sidney Gouvou scored.
The Camp Nou kept supporting the team and two minutes later Xavi set up Messi for the equalizer. A classic play from Barcelona's golden duo.
Barcelona kept on creating chances and 10 minutes later Busquets assisted David Villa, who gave Barcelona the lead. At this point, and given the way Barcelona were dominating the match, the only question was how many goals Barcelona would score.
In the last minute of the first half, a brilliant quick passing exchange culminated in Messi's second goal of the night. It was quite possibly the best goal of the match.
With 3-1 at half-time, the second half was a mere formality for Barcelona. The Blaugrana juggernaut was so dominant the Greek minnows were powerless to resist.
Barcelona kept playing their beautiful football and creating chances and there was nothing Panathinaikos could do to stop them. Messi missed a penalty, but he redeemed himself by setting up Pedro and Daniel Alves for the last two goals of the night.
In the 79th minute, Mascherano came into the match to replace Xavi and he showed some glimpses of his quality. It's only a matter of time until he's fully adapted and might help Barcelona in their quest for success.
All in all, a convincing win and, more important, a convincing performance by Barcelona, who showed that the debacle at the hands of Hercules is already behind them.
On Sunday, Barcelona will play at Atletico Madrid. It will undoubtedly be a very difficult match, one of the most difficult matches of the league season. After last weekend's defeat, Barcelona cannot afford to drop points and, if they play with the same attitude and quality they did today, there's every reason to believe that they will come out with the win.
As for the Champions League, it seems clear that Barcelona will have little trouble advancing to the knockout stages and winning the group.
On paper, Panathinaikos were the most difficult opponent and today's match showed that Barcelona is on a very superior level. In the other match of the group, Copenhagen surprisingly beat Rubin Kazan 1-0, showing that they might contend with Panathinaikos and Rubin Kazan for the second place.
Barcelona's next Champions League will be at Rubin Kazan. Last season, Barcelona were unable to beat Rubin Kazan and this will be a good opportunity for "revenge." It seems unlikely that the Russian team might stop Barcelona again.
Right now, though, the focus must be on La Liga and more precisely on Atletico Madrid. Only another great performance will allow Barcelona to win that match.
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