Thiago Silva headed an injury time equalizer to give AC Milan a
2-2 draw against title holder Barcelona in their opening game of
this season’s Champions League on Tuesday.
Tournament favorite Barcelona trailed after just 24 seconds when
Alexandre Pato dashed through Barcelona’s half and coolly slid the
ball under goalkeeper Victor Valdes to give the Italian champions
the lead at the Camp Nou.
A determined Lionel Messi led the Spanish champions’ response as
the Argentina forward created Pedro Rodriguez’s 36th-minute
equalizer before David Villa curled home a long-range free kick in
the 50th minute.
But Thiago leapt high to meet Clarence Seedorf’s corner as a
Milan team missing Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho to injury spoiled
the opening match of Barcelona’s title defense in Group H. BATE
Borisov and Viktoria Plzen drew 1-1 in the other group game to
leave all four teams on one point.
”They are still the most difficult team to play in the world,”
Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri said through a translator. ”I
would have taken a draw before the game because a point in this
opening Champions League game is very important.”
Barcelona ended a disappointing night by learning that
midfielder Andres Iniesta will be out for approximately four weeks
due to a leg injury.
Barcelona’s defense again let slip a lead in the final minutes,
just three days after it surrendered a two-goal advantage to draw
2-2 at Real Sociedad in the Spanish league.
”We did all we were supposed to do but we are still left with
this bitter taste,” Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said.
While Carles Puyol returned from injury to play as a second-half
substitute, Guardiola’s use of midfielders Sergio Busquets and
Javier Mascherano in the center of defense was exposed early as
Pato sprinted past the pair untouched before slotting home a
right-footed shot for the fifth-quickest goal ever in the Champions
Barcelona dominated possession, but Pato troubled Barcelona’s
defense with his few touches as the Brazil striker made up for the
absence of Ibrahimovic, who missed out on a return to the club he
left last year. Pato slipped the ball between Busquets’ legs and
scurried through on goal before laying the ball off for
Kevin-Prince Boateng to shoot high under pressure.
”We can admit that defensively we were not adequate,” said
Guardiola, whose team managed 13 shots on goal. ”But, I insist
that we played a match that was more than adequate.”
Barcelona did better to keep the ball after the early concession
with Messi causing most of the problems as he forced Abbiati into a
number of saves and curled a shot off the post before setting up
Pedro’s easy finish. Messi flicked a ball between Alessandro Nesta
and Ignazio Abate toward the goal line and reached it first to
cross into the box for his unmarked teammate.
Cesc Fabregas replaced Iniesta in the 38th after the Spain
international pulled up limp after a run, and the home side’s
talented midfield completed nearly seven times as many passes as
its opponent, with Abbiati often on the receiving end of such
buildups – including in the 48th when he flung himself across goal
to tip Xavi Hernandez’s shot out.
Abbiati was again flying though the air two minutes later but
could not reach Villa’s free kick as it found the top corner of the
net after evading the defensive wall.
Puyol came on in the 67th for his first appearance since May,
but even the captain’s return did not provide extra stability with
Gerard Pique already missing. Barcelona is also missing Chile
forward Alexis Sanchez to injury.
Milan managed to test Barcelona ‘keeper Victor Valdes once more
before Thiago scored the equalizer with a well-guided header
provided a well-earned point from what Barcelona players argued was
a dubious corner in the third minute of injury time.
”We got a little bit of luck but that’s how football is,”
Allegri added. ”We didn’t give up after going down 2-1 and we had
opportunities and then we were awarded with that corner.”