Barcelona 0-0 Benfica: Messi stretchered off but Portuguese pay for profligacy
Barcelona: Benfica failed to ensure it was they who followed Barcelona into the last 16 of the Champions League as the two sides played out a 0-0 draw at Camp Nou.
The Portuguese paid the price for wasting an abundance of chances that could have seen them take a memorable three points against a largely second-string Blaugrana team, as a win for Celtic in Group G`s other fixture meant they would have to settle for a spot in the Europa League.
Tito Vilanova sprung a number of surprises with his Barcelona line-up, but the biggest came as Lionel Messi, one strike away from equalling Gerd Muller`s record of 85 goals in a calendar year, began the game on the bench.
After a brief attempt from Adriano to fill the Argentine`s shoes with a scything run through the visitors` back line, a defensive lapse enabled Rodrigo to race through on goal at the other end.
The former Real Madrid youngster had Nolito in support but went alone and failed to bend his shot into the corner, instead watching it skip wide.
It proved not to be a momentary slip as the Blaugrana defence looked extremely disorganised. In the 21st minute they did not pick up Nolito on the left and his cross found an unmarked Lima in the box. The Brazilian, however, was unable to direct his diving header on target and Pinto was untroubled.
Moments later, it was almost the Eagles who were punished, as Luisao`s attempt to intercept Alexandre Song`s pass ended up gifting Christian Tello a chance. He seized on the ball but his touch was heavy and Artur managed to do enough to put the youngster off.
Benfica continued to look more threatening but their was no end in sight to their profligacy in front of goal. Lima`s shot came back off the post after the slightest of touches from Pinto, and John shot into the side netting after cutting inside Carles Planas with ease in the 35th minute.
The second half looked to be heading the same way as the first when, within the first minute of the re-start, Nolito saw his curling effort from Lima`s cross sail narrowly wide of the target.
The Catalan giants finally began to create some chances through David Villa but when those were not taken, Vilanova introduced Messi in the 58th minute.
However, the Argentine did not quite have the desired game-altering impact. After a rather tame 79th-minute free kick, he was denied the fabled 85th goal following a great recovery save from Artur at the death, though he seemed to do himself some serious damage in attempting to find the net and was promptly withdrawn.
For Benfica, the point was not enough to book their spot in the next round as they finished third, two points adrift of Celtic, while Barcelona had long since ensured that they would progress in first place.