By Michael Kahn and Robert Muller
PRAGUE (Reuters) – A quick-fire strike from Lionel Messi and a second half own goal gave Barcelona a 2-1 win over Slavia Prague in a thrilling Champions League Group F encounter on Wednesday where both sides spurned multiple chances.
Barcelona swarmed forward from the kick off, keeping Slavia bottled up in their own end and denying them possession.
They took the lead in the third minute when Messi forced a turnover before feeding the ball to Arthur who returned it for the Argentine to slip past the goalkeeper.
The goal made Messi the first player in Champions League history to score at least once in 15 consecutive seasons in the competition.
Slavia regrouped quickly and began pressing forward in numbers during a lively first half in which they out-shot Barcelona.
The hosts had three gilt-edge chances but were denied by Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen whose saves included a sprawling effort where he dove one way but used his foot to clear a Jaroslav Zeleny shot to safety.
“Ter Stegen has been our key player across all three Champions League matches so far,” Barca manager Ernesto Valverde said.
The home side, pushed on by a roaring crowd, kept their foot on the pedal after the break and deservedly levelled in the 50th minute when Lukas Masopust held off a defender before threading a pass to Jan Boril who made no mistake in front of goal.
Slavia players and manager Jindrich Trpisovsky rued their slew of missed chances, saying they showed they can compete with the strongest teams in Europe.
“Against such teams, it is about creating chances,” Trpisovsky said. “We created many but there was just one goal. In certain phases of the game we took big risks but you need to play like that against such opponents.”
Barcelona, harried all night by a hard-running Slavia side, reclaimed their advantage in the 57th minute when a Luis Suarez shot from a tight angle bounced off Peter Olayinka and into the net.
Slavia continued to push forward but despite a number of efforts inside the box could not breach a stubborn Barcelona backline that defended in numbers and blocked several last-gasp shots.
“That was exactly the Slavia performance we expected. When we lost the ball they threw people forward and by the end they took so many risks it was like defending against an avalanche of attacks,” Valverde said.
“Games like this we have to learn how to manage better. We had better, clearer chances but we lacked the cold-blooded calmness in their half which could have sealed the result.”
The win puts Barcelona top of Group F with seven points from three games while Slavia are bottom with one point. Elsewhere, Inter Milan beat Borussia Dortmund 2-0 and both teams are on four points in the group.
(Reporting by Michael Kahn and Robert Mueller, Editing by Christian Radnedge)