Monday 19 March 2018

Returning Ibrahimovic grabs share to put Barca in box-seat

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's second-half equaliser earned Champions League holders Barcelona a hard-fought draw in the first leg of their last-16 tie in Stuttgart last night.

Cacau, fresh from his four-goal haul against Cologne at the weekend, gave Stuttgart a deserved half-time lead, but Ibrahimovic struck just after the interval to put Barca in the box-seat heading into the second leg at the Nou Camp.

Barca were boosted by the return to action of Xavi and Ibrahimovic, but the home side, who have improved immensely under former Spurs flop Christian Gross and had won six of their previous seven games, took the game to their illustrious visitors.

They were rewarded in the 25th minute when Cacau rose to head in Timo Gebhart's cross.

Cacau had a chance to make it 2-0 in the 32nd minute after picking up the ball near halfway and bearing down on goal, but this time Victor Valdes was equal to the Brazil-born German international's effort.

On-loan Barca player Alexander Hleb created another opening for the hosts, but Christian Trasch sliced his shot well wide.

Barca's much-vaunted attack were getting little change out of the Stuttgart defence, but from nowhere they almost grabbed an equaliser five minutes before the break.

Lionel Messi, who had been his side's main threat, fired in a shot from 25 yards that looked set to creep in at the far post after only being half-stopped by Stuttgart goalkeeper Jens Lehmann. However, the ball struck the woodwork and rebounded back into the veteran's arms.

Stuttgart continued to create chances, but Barca improved after the break and drew level seven minutes into the second half when Ibramhimoviv beat Lehmann at the second attempt following Gerard Pique's knock-down.

In the 67th minute, Ibrahimovic had a shot cleared off the line as both sides pressed for a winner.

Irish Independent

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