Barcelona held to goalless draw by battling Olympiakos

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, right, challenges Olympiacos’ Alaixys Romao 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

ATHENS: Barcelona’s seemingly inevitable passage to the Champions League last 16 was postponed by a determined Olympiakos Piraeus side on Tuesday as the Greek champions held the Spanish giants to a 0-0 draw in an absorbing Group D clash. Ernesto Valverde’s in-form Barca team enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and chances in an often frenetic, open match at the Georgios Karaiskakis stadium but the La Liga club could not find a way past goalkeeper Silvio Proto. The Belgian made several fine saves, especially in the first half, to deny a somewhat subdued Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in a pulsating atmosphere generated by the boisterous home fans. Barcelona are top of the section with 10 points, having extended their unbeaten run in all competitions to 15 matches with 13 wins and two draws. It was the first Champions League point in four matches for Takis Lemonis’ Olympiakos team who are also struggling in the Greek SuperLeague as Barca were held to a goalless draw for the first time since April. Valverde, who won three league titles as Olympiakos coach in two spells at the club between 2008 and 2012, was given a rousing welcome by the home fans who held up a giant banner which read “Ernesto thanks for everything”.

Barca started at breakneck speed with right back Nelson Semedo racing clear and forcing a fine low save from Proto. Olympiakos, with midfielder Kostas Fortounis in a lone striking role, were pushed back in the early stages but the Greece international looked lively when he broke forward. Barca came close to scoring in the 20th minute when Messi struck a shot that was parried clumsily for a corner by Proto. His strike partner Suarez missed Barca’s best chance of the half three minutes later, sending a low shot into the side-netting with the outside of his right boot from a tight angle. Messi’s first real run at the defence came in the 28th when the Argentine raced through a flurry of bodies into the box before his shot was saved by Proto’s outstretched left boot. Messi then had a shot blocked before seeing his curling free-kick, won by Suarez, beaten away by Proto. Fortounis should have done much better from Alaixys Romao’s lobbed pass on the counter but volleyed straight at Marc-Andre ter Stegan who gathered it comfortably.

The visitors forged their best chance just after the hour but Messi uncharacteristically scuffed a poor first-time effort wide after a neat one-two with Suarez. Barca exerted more pressure as the second half wore on but had little to show for their efforts apart from a couple of blocked and wayward shots by a below-par Suarez, who also lobbed an effort on to the top of the bar with 10 minutes left. Proto made two more stops to thwart Messi, one from a free-kick and another from a powerful low shot, to ensure Olympiakos secured a creditable draw against their illustrious opponents. – Reuters


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