Barcelona virtually assured qualification to the last 16 of the Champions League last night with a 2-0 victory over Rangers courtesy of Thierry Henry and Lionel Messi. Walter Smith's side have excelled in Europe this season and went into the game undefeated and level on eight points with the hosts, but only the most optimistic in Rangers' following expected anything but defeat against the Catalan giants.
The Rangers manager, Walter Smith, admitted as much afterwards. "It was a tough night, I can't be critical," he said. "They had a lot of possession, we worked very hard without any great reward. Any team will struggle here."
Daniel Cousin started instead of Jean-Claude Darcheville up front for Rangers. Rafael Marquez and Gabriel Milito came into the Barcelona side that beat Real Betis at the weekend, with Lilian Thuram and the injured Gianluca Zambrotta making way.
Frank Rijkaard had asked for an early goal to unsettle the visitors who, like Barcelona, had two wins and a draw from their first three group games. The Dutchman's side duly delivered in the seventh minute when Henry bundled in a headed cross from Messi to score his 44th Champions League goal.
Establishing the template for what was to follow, Barça pressured further, the splendid Andres Iniesta curling a shot wide of the post after 15 minutes. The visitors did create a chance a minute later but DaMarcus Beasley's header floated harmlessly wide.
Rangers were backed by huge numbers, one of the biggest contingents ever from a British club for a non-final match. Six thousand tickets were allocated, yet the Glasgow club estimated 22,000 travelling fans and the Catalan newspapers printed alarming headlines warning of 15,000 ticketless drunks invading Barcelona.
After spending the day drinking in the November sun, several thousand found their way into home sections here. They were as uneasy witnessing Barça fans unfurl a large Irish tricolour as seeing Ronaldinho force Allan McGregor to tip his shot over his bar in the 26th minute.
Barça's second goal was skilfully worked, Henry setting up Messi for a one-two with Ronaldinho in the 43rd minute. McGregor parried the Brazilian's shot into the path of the Argentine, who knocked in his third goal in four Champions League games this season.
Messi had called Rangers tactics "anti-football" – the antithesis of Barça's attacking play – after the goalless draw at Ibrox two weeks ago. His individual contribution was anything but as he slipped the ball through David Weir's legs in the 57th minute before failing to get the power in a shot to beat McGregor. Messi missed another chance to make it three in the 66th minute after Henry squared for him with only the goalkeeper to beat.
Alongside Arsenal, Barça are the only team yet to concede in the Champions League. A late Brahim Hemdani free-kick was the closest Rangers came to changing that, but the goalkeeper, Victor Valdes, was never seriously troubled.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdes; Milito, Puyol (Oleguer, 85), Marquez, Abidal; Xavi, Touré Yaya, Iniesta (Gudjohnsen, 71); Messi, Ronaldinho (Bojan, 77), Henry. Substitutes not used: Jorquera (gk), Sylvinho, Giovanni, Thuram.
Rangers (4-5-1): McGregor; Hutton, Weir, Cuellar, Papac; Hemdani, Ferguson, Adam (Darcheville, 62), Beasley (Novo, 69), McCulloch; Cousin (Naismith, 78). Substitutes not used: Carroll (gk), Boyd, Whittaker, Faye.
Referee: E Braamhaar (Netherlands).
Champions League Group E
Results: Barcelona 3 Lyons 0; Rangers 2 VfB Stuttgart 1; Lyons 0 Rangers 3; VfB Stuttgart 0 Barcelona 2; Rangers 0 Barcelona 0; VfB Stuttgart 0 Lyons 2; Barcelona 2 Rangers 0; Lyons 4 VfB Stuttgart 2.
Remaining fixtures: 27 Nov: VfB Stuttgart v Rangers; Lyons v Barcelona. 12 Dec: Barcelona v VfB Stuttgart; Rangers v Lyons.Reuse content