Barcelona 2-1 Atlético Madrid
In an enjoyable contest not without controversy on the northeast coast of the Iberian Peninsula, Fernando Torres' double booking would come back to cost the visitors; after the Spanish striker gave them an early lead.
A reckless challenge on Busquets would give referee Felix Brych no other option but than to dismiss the forward, ultimately proving the difference in the second half when the man-down Atlético couldn't replicate their defensive strength, and fell to a duo of Suárez goals.
Despite playing in their home cauldron of the Camp Nou, Barcelona were clad in yellow while the opposition sported the navy strip after UEFA made the request "in an effort to improve visibility and clearly differentiate the teams for both referees and spectators". What was very visible early on was the game plan from Diego Simeone's men, getting plenty of numbers behind the ball and building an iron wall as Messi looked to torment the goal of Jan Oblak.
The Rojiblancos did put in a shift of pressing for themselves but it became rather clear that they were willing to let the Catalans get the ball rolling in the defensive half, but any time the likes of Iniesta or Messi attempted to spark a chance, a Madrid warrior was there to blockade them. It would take more than 12 minutes before the hosts managed to conjure up a big chance - only for Lionel Messi to uncharacteristically fluff his lines.
After Jordi Alba recovered the ball following Neymar's loss, the Spaniard whipped it in to the left foot of the Argentine sensation from mid way in the area but his volley was well off target. Just as they managed to get in on goal, the most reliable variable of them all couldn't take the chance.
In what will surely become a tradition now around the Camp Nou and maybe throughout the footballing world was an applause on the 14th minute to honour the great Johan Cruyff, a revolutionary pioneer of the game especially for Barcelona.
An uncharacteristic start to the game by Barcleona was followed by yet another of their stars playing similarly. Having been rather sloppy and slow attempting to break through the stone wall that is Atlético's back line, Neymar came unbelievably and unforgivably close with a header after Dani Alves found him in the area with a short cross. It was the perfect opportunity, albeit one which was not met with the conviction it needed.
While Atlético's positive start to the contest had little to do with their attacking output, all they would need is one opening as Fernando Torres pounced on a Koke through ball to silence the Camp Nou and put the reigning champions in a real predicament. As they encroached towards the attacking side of the pitch, Koke managed to knock it through to the striker in a gap between defenders, where Torres slotted it through Ter Stegen's legs to get the opener. With the goal secured and Barcelona shocked, everyone knew Atleti's plan: slow the game down and defend their lead.
|Image: FOX Soccer|
Just as Atlético began to get to grips to being the leaders of the game, a moment of madness from Fernando Torres really put them up against it. With Busquets passing the ball away, the forward recklessly barged into his compatriot from an angle, kneeing into his calf and being issued with a second booking and subsequently sent off.
Dani Alves shot fizzed away from target in the final notable moment of a first half that belonged to the visitors; who had set up a strong camp on enemy soil, and had a goal to savour with them, despite the red card still looming some doubt over the evening. Barcelona were left frustrated after 45 minutes to say the least.
Neymar came tantalizingly close at 51 minutes, when he cut on to his right foot inside the area to unleash a sweet curling shot that smashed off the crossbar, falling back out to Dani Alves whose cross didn't result in another chance. The Brazilian would be in ample space just minutes later when Rakitić set him up, but this time he was denied by Oblak, striking it straight down the middle.
Atlético's keeper was forced into action yet again when Lionel Messi had a pop from around 20 yards. He just managed to prevent it from creeping in at the bottom corner, but the Camp Nou had now transformed into an energetic theatre; possession was in their favour, they had a one-man advantage, and now they were searching high and low for an equaliser.
Luis Suárez was the man who found it. Despite a quiet game up until that point, the Uruguayan was in the right place at the right time to guide in a wayward volley to put his side back in the tie. Dani Alves initiated the threat by picking out his fellow full-back Jordi Alba. He went to volley it, but didn't get a clean connection and just as it was appearing to veer away from goal, it was knocked in at close range from the striker and with that, they were back in it.
It was that man again, the one and only Luis Suárez who dealt Simeone's men an almighty blow. Much neater than his first, an incisive passing play in which he popped it through to Alves after receiving from Messi was continued with the right-back crossing it perfectly on to the head of Suárez, making a similarly perfect connection leaving the keeper no chance of stopping, and all of a sudden, the game had been turned on its head.
In retrospect, Atlético may feel hard done by - Suárez's antics in the second half may have warranted numerous bookings, and if that was the case then the story would be very different.
Atlético did appear to remain content for the 2-1 defeat with 90 more minutes spared for the Calderon, while Barca finished the match looking to get another decisive goal. Despite numerous shifts forward, the exhausted visitors managed to hold out and keep the one-goal margin ahead of the second leg.Not nice, Suarez. pic.twitter.com/UyXK3ENq4T— TheSportMatrix (@TheSportMatrix) April 5, 2016
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