With goalkeeping heroics, Olympiakos holds Barcelona 0-0

Barcelona's Nelson Semedo, left, and Olympiakos' Leonardo Koutris vie for the ball during the Champions League group D soccer match between Olympiakos and Barcelona at Georgios Karaiskakis stadium at Piraeus port, near Athens, Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

PIRAEUS, Greece (AP) Olympiakos held Barcelona to a surprise 0-0 draw in the Champions League on Tuesday, denying the visitors early qualification to the round of 16 from Group D.

Lionel Messi was stopped five times by goalkeeper Silvio Proto. The Catalans, dropping their first points in four matches, had two-thirds of the possession and pressed hard for a winning goal to deafening opposition from fans at Karaiskakis Stadium.

The Greek champions, playing after three straight defeats, defended with real determination, but did little with their counterattacks as they settled for a point against a Barcelona side under their former coach Ernesto Valverde.

”It was hard work, but a good result, what we have to do now is keep fighting hard,” Olympiakos midfielder Panagiotis Tachtsidis said.

Olympiakos captain Alberto Botia, who joined Barcelona as a teenager, was a standout as a sweeper for the hosts, who improved after the break.

Proto stopped three shots from Messi in the first half, and kept up his heroics in the second, saving a shot from Luis Suarez in 72nd minute. A lob from Suarez eight minutes later bounced off the crossbar.

The Belgian `keeper punched away a free kick from Messi two minutes before the end of regular time and again dived to block a powerful effort by the Argentine in injury time.

Minutes before the final whistle, a young Greek fan ran onto the pitch and hugged Suarez and Messi, before being led off by stewards.

Valverde maintained the pressure throughout, bringing on striker Gerard Deulofeu late in the game.

The coach remains a favorite of Olympiakos fans, who chanted his name and held up a giant banner written in Spanish that said ”Ernesto Thanks For Everything.”

The Spaniard, who won three league titles and two Greek Cups for the Piraeus team, was given an award – a golden wreath – by the Greek club’s chairman before the start of the game.

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