Leeds destroyed by brilliance of Rivaldo's vision

Champions' League: Barcelona inspired by their World Player of the Year as O'Leary's injury-ravaged side capitulate in Catalonia
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The Independent Online

For 20 minutes here last night the only sound to be heard was the raucous triumphalism of Leeds United's travelling 2,000. Sadly for David O'Leary, it came long before kick-off, when the Nou Camp was eerily empty. In the 90 minutes that mattered, Yorkshire voices were drowned out by a Catalan cacophony as Barcelona subjected their side to a punishing introduction to the Champions' League

For 20 minutes here last night the only sound to be heard was the raucous triumphalism of Leeds United's travelling 2,000. Sadly for David O'Leary, it came long before kick-off, when the Nou Camp was eerily empty. In the 90 minutes that mattered, Yorkshire voices were drowned out by a Catalan cacophony as Barcelona subjected their side to a punishing introduction to the Champions' League

The Leeds manager had admitted to fearing that his severely depleted team might take "a drubbing". Two individuals, above all others in an awesome collective effort by Barcelona, guaranteed they received one. Rivaldo, the World Player of the Year, was in imperious form, plundering an early goal and tormenting midfielders and defenders alike with his twists and turns, vision and precision.

Then, when the great Brazilian had left the stage, with Barcelona cruising at 2-0 following a second goal by Frank de Boer from a free-kick earned by Rivaldo, Patrick Kluivert claimed two ruthlessly executed goals in the final 15 minutes.

Leeds' misery was compounded when their captain, Lucas Radebe, was rushed to hospital for X-rays with his neck in a brace after a collision with Michael Duberry.

The scoreline matched the one by which Manchester United were mauled at the same venue in 1994, when Rivaldo's compatriot Romario similarly ran amok. "We played a world-class team and we were truly beaten," reflected O'Leary. "It's as simple as that."

Leeds' second Group H fixture - petrol crisis permitting - pits them against Milan atElland Road next Tuesday, with two games against Besiktas to follow. After this torrid initiation, even the return to Istanbul may seem less daunting.

Olivier Dacourt had the short-straw task of shadowing Rivaldo. He soon found he was, in fact, chasing shadows. Yet for a few moments after Alan Smith's fierce first-minute challenge had left Barcelona's playmaker writhing and requiring treatment, it looked as though the ploy might not be necessary.

Rivaldo recovered with a vengeance. With just nine minutes played, he was dispossessed by Dacourt. The ball ran straight to Simao Sabrosa on the right and when the Portuguese winger's pass came in, Rivaldo audaciously dummied Duberry to set up a left-footed shot. As his 15-yard drive caressed the corner of the net, Nigel Martyn was beaten for placement as much as power.

Leeds glimpsed the possibility of an equaliser after 12 minutes, only for Marc Overmars, contradicting his Highbury stereotype, to dive and head clear as Lee Bowyer arrived to meet Michael Bridges' deft cross. It was a rare respite. Rivaldo found space apparently at will, orchestrating moves which used the full width of the pitch and saw the ball switched around as if in an arcade game.

The second goal duly arrived in the 20th minute after Dacourt, not for the first time, had felled Rivaldo. From 25 yards, De Boer's free-kick moved the ball in the air like a seamer on a misty morning at Headingley. Martyn was left floundering by the same post, with no time to reflect on the irony of left feet inflicting fresh damage on the English.

Leeds were fortunate to reach half-time without being breached again. Dani and Rivaldo, proving his mortality, failed to convert free headers, the latter was denied by Duberry's textbook sliding tackle; and Martyn saved with his legs as Gerard surged clear.

An assertive start to the second half testified to Leeds' team spirit. Fifty seconds in, Ian Harte connected powerfully with Bridges' deep cross but Richard Dutruel somehow got his body in the way of the ball.

Another reckless challenge, by Smith on Philip Cocu, brought Leeds' second caution. That the Dutchman's replacement was the £10m Emmanuel Petit illustrated the disparity in resources and quality on an evening when Danny Hay and Tony Hackworth made their first-teamdebuts as late substitutes.

If Leeds thought that the worst had passed with Rivaldo's exit, Kluivert swiftly disabused them. Within two minutes the previously languid Netherlands striker stole in ahead of Duberry to steer another Simao cross past Martyn.

Barca were still not sated. With six minutes remaining, Kluivert took Ivan de la Peña's through-pass and contemptuously shrugged aside Danny Mills and Radebe before angling a brutal fourth goal beyond Martyn. The sight of Leeds' defensive linchpindeparting on a stretcher merely added injury to insult.

Barcelona (3-2-3-2): Dutruel; Abelardo, De Boer, Sergi; Gerard, Cocu (Petit, 54); Simao Sabrosa, Rivaldo (Alfonso, 73), Overmars; Dani (De la Peña, 65), Kluivert. Substitutes not used: Reiziger, Santamaria, Fernando, Arnau (gk).

Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn; Kelly, Duberry, Radebe (Hay, 89), Mills; Bowyer, Dacourt, McPhail (Hackworth, 73), Harte; Smith, Bridges. Substitutes not used: Huckerby, Jones, Burns, Evans, Robinson (gk).

Referee: M Merk (Germany).

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