Barcelona does just enough to grab top spot

China Daily | Updated: 2017-11-24 07:21

Messi rested as Juve stalemate secures Catalans last-16 berth

TURIN, Italy - Without Lionel Messi for almost an hour on Wednesday, Barcelona managed to get the draw it needed to reach the Champions League knockout stages.

But it was a drab 0-0 draw at Juventus, despite Paulo Dybala's best efforts to spark some life into the home side.

Messi was rested for the first half before coming on for Gerard Deulofeu in the 56th minute. He came close to converting a couple of freekicks, but Barca barely troubled Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

The point was enough for Barcelona to secure top spot in Group D. Juventus remains second in the group but is only a point above Sporting Lisbon, which beat Olympiakos 3-1.

Juventus, which reached the final in two of the past three seasons, visits Greek side Olympiakos in the last round, while Sporting travels to Barcelona.

"Leaving Messi out was difficult but he has played a lot this season and has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders," said Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde.

"Today we saw a long and tough contest so we thought a rest would do him good.

"We knew the game could open up in the second half, so I wanted to both let him rest and have an option to shake things up."

Ivan Rakitic narrowly missed for Barcelona on a first-half freekick that rattled off the right post.

Dybala almost scored in stoppage time for Juventus but Marc-Andre Ter Stegen palmed his effort around the post.

"We had our chances ... what a pity for that ball at the end," Dybala said.

"Now we have to be good and win the match against Olympiakos and not wait to see what Barcelona does against Sporting."

Juventus beat Barcelona 3-0 in Turin in last season's quarterfinals on its way to the final. But the Bianconeri lost at Barcelona by the same score earlier this campaign. "We played against a very good team and it was not an easy game to win," Dybala said.

"In comparison to last year, they defended much better and it wasn't easy to get into the (penalty) area."

Dybala has long been compared to Messi - his Argentina teammate.

The 24-year-old was at the heart of most of Juve's good moves and almost scored before the break after beating a couple of defenders before firing over the bar.

Apart from brief moments like that, the match was short on quality, despite the esteemed talent on the pitch. Gonzalo Higuain's howlers were the most glaring - the Juve striker slipped in the middle of the area and wasted another promising position by conceding possession cheaply.

The Argentine also fired over the bar, while sloppy passing by both sides was symptomatic of a forgettable night.

Associated Press

Barcelona does just enough to grab top spot

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