Barcelona edge resolute APOEL


Barcelona opened their Champions League campaign with victory over Apoel Nicosia, although the 1-0 result will have done little to worry any of their Group F rivals. The Primera Division side wasted chance after chance at the Nou Camp, with Gerard Pique's first-half header all that separated the two sides in the end. And with a trip to French champions Paris Saint-Germain next up for Barca, Luis Enrique's men will need to perform much better if they are to maintain their proud record in the competition. Xavi's appearance in the starting line-up saw the midfielder equal the all-time record for Champions League appearances, matching former Real Madrid striker Raul on 142. Yet the Nou Camp seemed to hold little fear for Apoel at the start, and they could have gone ahead after just three minutes but Efstathios Aloneftis' inviting cross was headed over the bar by Tomas De Vincenti. It was 10 minutes before the Barca fans saw something to excite them and it was Lionel Messi who provided the moment, with a curling free-kick which had to be tipped round the post at full stretch by Rafael Urko. That chance settled any lingering nerves and the hosts were soon in control, with Urko called into action once more after 19 minutes to deal with a header from forward Munir El Haddadi. Neymar, making his first start of the season, then took on and beat two defenders but was unable to keep his 20-yard drive on target. However, Barca's dominance paid off after 28 minutes with a little help from the boot of Messi, who floated in another free-kick for Pique to head home his seventh goal in Champions League competition. The Catalan club looked short of their best but still threatened a second goal. And Messi was unfortunate not to score it, playing a neat one-two with Neymar five minutes before the interval, only for the Argentinian's final effort to be turned away by Urko. Luis Enrique's men continued to rule the roost in the second half but without making much of an impact. And they were almost caught out after 58 minutes when De Vicenti powered a shot from 18 yards which cleared the bar with some assistance from home goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Adriano tried to give Barca a two-goal cushion after 66 minutes, although his strike was matched by Urko in the Apoel goal. Munir then had the ball in the back of the net a minute later but was it ruled out for offside, with few protests from the home players. Messi also curled a left-footed shot wide of the target as the Catalans saw yet another chance go begging. Sandro and Neymar were equally guilty of profligacy in the final minutes and Apoel could have snatched a point in stoppage time but Ter Stegen tipped Gustavo Manduca's curling effort over the bar.