No repeat miracle for eliminated Barcelona as Juventus stand firm
There was to be no Comeback Part II, no repetition of that night against Paris Saint-Germain and no sign of the “madness” that Luis Enrique had hoped for. As the final seconds slipped away, flags waved all around the Camp Nou and the Barcelona fans sang. There was no recrimination and they had appreciated the effort, witnessing their team rack up 17 shots, but the supporters had long known that they were not heading into the Champions League semi-finals: this tie had been lost in the first 45 minutes in Turin. Juventus will be there instead, and deservedly so, after earning a clean sheet last night.
Luis Enrique, Barcelona’s coach, had talked about making their opponents nervous, but that never happened. Watching them, you wondered if they ever worry. Andrés Iniesta, meanwhile, had spoken about the need to take the game into a place where it at least became possible, but Barcelona never got there. Juventus simply would not let them. It is 21 years since Juventus won the Champions League but they must be considered contenders. This is a side of real assurance and in those rare moments that Barça got real opportunities, they could not take them.
Before the game Luis Enrique had vowed to “attack, attack, attack, and then when it is time to rest, attack and attack”. To begin with, that plan did not appear so easy to follow, the first real shot coming at the other end from Gonzalo Higuaín, but with time Barcelona did take a step forward. They pressed and passed and they did it as swiftly as they could, Lionel Messi dropping deep to start moves. Usually he looked left, where Neymar ran at Juventus and Jordi Alba overlapped. A neat clipped ball from Messi almost found him as he sped into the area, skidding for the ball four yards out.
Neymar, all fast feet, was pushing Juventus back, Iniesta willing to support inside as Alba went outside, and although the Italians are a side comfortable under pressure, there were hints that Barcelona could hurt them. Luis Suárez had a shot blocked and then Messi controlled just inside the penalty area and, with Giorgio Chiellini rushing out to him, pulled his shot past the post. He would have expected to hit the target. Neymar shot wide, then Sergi Roberto volleyed over and Iniesta cleared the bar.
The momentum was building, Barcelona playing high up the pitch. Gianluigi Buffon saved from Messi, who then slammed the rebound into the side-netting. Suárez could only skew a volley wide. If the chances were not always clear-cut – Messi apart – they were growing in number; by half-time Barcelona had taken nine shots, and the ball had been theirs 63% of the time. Juventus defended well and in numbers. There was also always the risk of the home side being caught on the counter. The most concerning came when Higuaín slid in to connect with a low volley from close range.
Half-time came as a watershed and a disappointment to the immense majority of the 96,290 people here. Emotionally, there had been a need to get a goal by then. Juventus stood firm; Barcelona’s energy was always likely to drop. They always knew this would be harder than the previous round against PSG: Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci are no easy pair to pass in defence, even when midfielders Sami Khedira and Miralem Pjanic could be overcome. And there was always Buffon. Messi had never scored against him.
The truth, though, was that while the shots racked up they rarely troubled the experienced Juve goalkeeper. Neymar fired over the bar then played a sharp one-two with Messi, whose attempt was also too high. Gerard Piqué soon copied them.
For the visitors, Juan Cuadrado ran into space on the right and went close at the near post. So often Juventus’s outlet, he had already fired one warning; this was another. Messi continued to carry the fight to Juventus, curling a low shot beyond to the far post and a high free-kick over the bar on the other side. As Barcelona grew desperate, striker Paco Alcácer came on for Ivan Rakitic.
More attackers did not mean more chances, though. Neymar and Piqué tried, Messi too – his right footed volley from seven yards was the best of them – and so did Javier Mascherano soon after he was introduced. But this was not to be and everyone here knew it. They kept coming but there was no real sense of desperation, no collective hysteria or wild acceleration, no anticipation either. Barcelona had needed three goals, and as it went into the last ten minutes they still needed three. They could not get one – not here and not in Turin. With two minutes to go they chased the fourth official appealing a penalty, but the protest was in vain. The previous ninety minutes had been too. Finding a way past Juventus proved an impossible task that Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Monaco will not relish.