Ibrahimovic gives Barça the edge

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's second-half equaliser earned Champions League holders Barcelona a hard-fought draw from the first leg of their last-16 tie against Stuttgart last night. Cacau, fresh from his four-goal haul against Cologne at the weekend, had given Stuttgart a deserved half-time lead but Ibrahimovic struck just after the interval to put Barça in charge heading into the second leg at the Nou Camp.

Barcelona were boosted by the return to action of Xavi and Ibrahimovic, who both missed Saturday's 4-0 win over Racing Santander through injury, but neither of them had much chance to shine in the first half.

The home side, who have improved immensely under Christian Gross and had won six of their previous seven games, were determined to take the game to Barça and were rewarded when Cacau broke the deadlock in the 25th minute with a powerful header.

Timo Gebhart's cross from near the touchline was inch-perfect, just clearing Carles Puyol at the far post and allowing Cacau head past the helpless Victor Valdes.

Cacau had a chance to make it 2-0 in the 32nd minute after picking up Pavel Pogrebniak's knockdown near the halfway line and sprinting towards the Barcelona box, but this time Valdes was equal to the Brazil-born German international's effort.

Stuttgart were refusing to let the reigning champions settle and created another opportunity in the 35th minute following good work by Alexander Hleb. Christian Trasch wasted the chance though, slicing his shot well wide from the edge of the area.

Barcelona fans might have been fearing the worst at the break, but they need not have worried as the Catalan giants looked much more comfortable in the second half. It took them just seven minutes to get back on level terms thanks to Ibrahimovic. Pique used his 6ft 3in frame to good effect to nod a high ball down to Ibrahimovic, and although Lehmann blocked his first effort, the Swede slotted home at the second attempt to edge the Spaniards towards the next round.

The French champions Bordeaux are also on the brink of qualification after an an impressive 1-0 away victory at Olympiakos. Michael Ciani popped up with the only goal of the game on the stroke of the interval as the Greek side gave themselves a mountain to climb in the second leg on 17 March.

The winner was not without a whiff of controversy, however, coming as it did from a controversial free-kick awarded by referee Howard Webb, but that will be of little concern for Bordeaux coach Laurent Blanc who saw his side maintain their unbeaten record in this season's competition.

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