Around Camp Nou, it was mostly an eerie silence on the final whistle of Barcelona’s 3-3 draw with Inter Milan, as it dawned on fans that the Catalan side are almost certainly eliminated from the competition already.
As Inter’s players, coaches and fans celebrated in their small pockets, most of the 92,302 supporters were stunned and exhausted – as were the home team, their coach Xavi Hernandez and the club’s president Joan Laporta.
This was not supposed to be happening after Barcelona’s eventful summer 2022, with the noise of financial levers being pulled and the excitement generated by new signings such as Robert Lewandowski. That was all designed to make sure that the club was ready for big nights like this with a rebuilt team that could again compete for the top trophies.
Just two months into the 2022-23 season, that theory is looking very shaky indeed. Barca’s new team began the season impressively in La Liga, with Lewandowski scoring goals and most of the other new signings appearing to settle quickly.
The last few weeks had brought back-to-back Champions League group defeats to Bayern Munich and Inter but Barca had told themselves that they had been unlucky. On Wednesday, they could turn things back in their favour.
Ninety minutes of huge excitement and chaos later, it became clear Laporta’s plan to mortgage the club’s future to become instantly competitive had not worked. Now Barcelona find themselves stuck in the abyss and on the verge of disaster after a 3-3 home draw with Inter Milan in the Champions League.
The Catalans desperately needed to beat Inter by two clear goals to edge the head-to-head with both teams locked in a battle to take the runner-up spot in the group behind German champions Bayern Munich.
It took a stoppage time equaliser from Robert Lewandowski to keep Barcelona’s faint hopes of reaching the last-16 alive.
MD spoke of a ‘crazy game’ and explained that should Inter defeat Viktoria Plzen at the San Siro later this month, Barcelona will find themselves resigned back to the Europa League.
Spanish newspapers Diario AS and Marca went to town with a gobsmacked Gerard Pique on the cover with the headline, ‘On the verge of disaster’. For Sport, another Barcelona-focused paper, they had a picture of a frustrated Lewandowski next to the headline, Alive by a miracle, after his two late goals spared elimination.
Barcelona made a perfect start when Ousmane Dembele scored the opening goal of the game five minutes before half-time. But Simone Inzaghi’s Inter rallied from there and two goals either side of the hour mark from Nicolo Barella and Lautaro Martinez turned the game on its head.
Lewandowski squared it up at 2-2 eight minutes from time before Inter looked to have grabbed a late winner through wing-back Robin Gosens in the 89th minute. Despite a stoppage time header from Lewandowski keeping Barcelona’s faint hopes of progressing alive, boss Xavi brutally conceded his team do not deserve to be in the Champions League.
“I’m very disappointed, sad, frustrated, I’m angry,” Xavi said. “I have to be self-critical; we don’t deserve to play in the Champions League. It hurts me, but it’s the truth.”
Inter manager Simone Inzaghi was sent off in stoppage time, while Barcelona were very lucky that Kristjan Asllani wasted a golden chance to finish them off, choosing not to pass to a wide-open Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the game’s dying moments.
Now, it looking grim for Barcelona in the Champions League. The result has been adjudged as particularly good for Barcelona, who now need a miracle to stay alive in Group C. They need Viktoria Plzen, who have lost all four of their matches in the Champions League so far, and have given up an average of four goals per game – to go to the San Siro in two weeks’ time and get at least a point against Inter.
- A Tell / Agencies report