Champions League - Milan grab last-gasp point at Barcelona
Tue, 13 Sep 21:44:00 2011
Milan salvaged a last-gasp 2-2 draw with an equaliser in stoppage time as the holders Barcelona began their Champions League campaign with a frustrating point at the Camp Nou.
Pato stunned the hosts with a dramatic 24th second strike to put Milan in front inside the opening minute, but Pedro restored parity after Lionel Messi made Ignazio Abate look foolish in the 36th minute.
Barcelona assumed the lead just five minutes into the second half as David Villa scorched a stunning free-kick into the top corner of the net as their quest to become the first team to defend the Champions League trophy looked set to begin with a win, but Thiago Silva's stoppage-time header levelled the scores in dramatic fashion.
Milan had to contend with having Gennaro Gattuso suspended as Mark van Bommel stepped in, while the encounter was devoid of one particular sub plot as a groin injury spared Zlatan Ibrahimovic a return to the Camp Nou against his former club.
Pep Guardiola named 10 of the starting 11 from last season's Champions League final success, with only Eric Abidal coming in to replace Gerard Pique, but his side found themselves a goal down after only seconds of the first half.
Pato latched on to a through ball to race clear of an alarmingly static Barca back four, and the Brazilian coolly slid a precise finish under Victor Valdes to give the Italian champions a stunning start.
It could easily have been two just minutes after as Pato again raced clear to receive a through ball from Clarence Seedorf, but Eric Abidal just managed to recover with a last-gasp sliding challenge to deny the forward another clear run on goal.
But Barcelona soon settled into their stride, and Christian Abbiati was forced to make a string of inspired saves as Messi twice forced his way through a flurry of challenges to test the 34-year-old goalkeeper with low drives.
Both managers made changes in the first half as the ineffectual and hot-tempered Kevin-Prince Boateng was withdrawn with Massimo Ambrosini coming on in his place, while Cesc Fabregas benefitted from an enforced change as Iniesta hobbled off gingerly.
It appeared almost inevitable that the hosts would redress the balance of the scoreline, and it proved to be the case as Pedro levelled in the 36th minute.
Messi weaved mesmerically through three challenges before making up an almost inexplicable amount of ground on the leaden-footed Abate to re-gather the ball by the byline and square it to Pedro to tap home.
Both sides re-emerged eager to seize the initiative at the start of the second half, but it was the hosts who stamped their authority on proceedings just five minutes in.
Sergio Busquets won a free kick 25 yards out at the expense of a bewildered Antonio Cassano, and Villa stepped up to lash a rasping strike beyond a despairing Abbiati dive and into the top corner of the net. It was a goal worthy of clinching victory and finally breaching Milan's stout rearguard.
Barcelona's lead could have been considerably more convincing had it not been for a defensive masterclass from Alessandro Nesta, who repeatedly thwarted Messi et al with crucial last-ditch challenges and impeccable interventions.
Carles Puyol was introduced to a rapturous reception midway through the second half as Guardiola sought to shore up his back line, but Barcelona's incessant pressing game ensured Milan were unable to make inroads until stoppage time when Milan struck again.
Seedorf delivered a devilish corner from the right, and Silva rose imperiously above Busquets to power an unerring header beyond Valdes and into the net to stun the hosts, two minutes into added time.
Barca, kings of Europe four times compared to the seven triumphs of their opening opponents, began as favourites to become the first club to retain the trophy since Milan achieved the feat in 1990, but it was the Italian champions who were by far the happier with a point in the opening fixture.
Valdes: No panic after Milan draw