0-1, Giuly (min. 5)
0-2, Iniesta (min. 65)
Barça needed a win in Sofia to keep their hopes of retaining the Champions League alive. But the three points never really looked in doubt, and goals from Iniesta and Giuly, one in each half, sealed an important victory.
As it turned out, Werder Bremen beat Chelsea in the other game, meaning that anything but a win against Levski Sofia would have relegated Barça to the UEFA Cup. And the pressure was certainly on in the second half, when an equaliser from the home side would have really put Barça in trouble. But the Blaugrana kept their heads and got the job done in emphatic style, and now need to beat the Bundesliga leaders at the Camp Nou on December 5 to secure passage to the next round.
Action from the start
Levski were desperate to finally give their fans something to celebrate, and Barça knew how important it was to get an early goal in. So the game got off to a hectic start, with two chances falling for either side, and Barcelona eventually taking the initiative with an early Giuly goal. Deco shot just wide in the first attack of the game, and shortly after Yovov dodged past Zambrotta but put his effort into the side netting. Then the Bulgarian was unable to properly clear a Zambrotta cross, and Giuly was there to blast the ball home from the middle of the penalty area. The early setback only silenced the Vassilevski stadium for a few moments. The goal only made the home side keener than ever to make an impression, and centre backs Márquez and Puyol were on fine form in breaking down a series of onslaughts on the Barcelona goal.
Lots of space
Levski have a huge pitch, and that meant plenty of space for building up attacking moves, but the Bulgarians tended to use their hearts more than their heads, while Barça had the advantage of two excellent playmakers in Iniesta and Deco, who started frustrating the home side with their obvious superiority. Barça started using the wings, with Sylvinho making several runs down the left supported by Ronaldinho, whenever he could break free from the tight man marking that was making it hard for him to get involved. The first real warning to the Barça defence came when Borimirov's strike from outside the area only went inches wide of Valdés' goal. Sylvinho responded with a chance of his own, then Márquez came close from a corner and Ronaldinho worked his way into the area to slip a pass to Gudjohnsen, whose effort was intercepted by the Bulgarian defence.
Looking to finish the job
Barça could not afford to relax, knowing they needed a second goal as insurance against the possibility of a surprise Levski equaliser. But it took a long time in coming. Gudjohnsen and Giuly both had clear chances shortly after the break. The Icelander's shot went wide, but moments later he was through on goal again only to be brilliantly tackled. But the ball only went as far as Giuly, who saw goalkeeper Petkov turn his effort behind for a corner. It was time for changes. Rijkaard sent Xavi on for Giuly, and then Márquez asked to be taken off with an injured foot to be replaced by Oleguer. Seconds after the change, Petkov was unable to hold on to a 65th minute Deco strike, and Iniesta was at hand to send the ball into the back of the net and make it 2-0 and as good as game over.
With Xavi, Deco, and Iniesta in midfield, none of which are precisely the tallest of players, the rest of the game was always going to be case of playing the ball on the ground and keeping possession against a Levski side that had lost its will and played some frankly sloppy football. Ronaldinho and Guddy continued to create half chances, but the last twenty minutes were more a question of letting the minutes tick by, safe in the knowledge that three important points had been won on a cold night in Bulgaria. But tonight was only half of the story. In two week's time Barcelona will entertain Werder Bremen, and once again, nothing but a win will suffice.
FC Barcelona can only afford to win. Frank Rijkaard had no thoughts of losing. The players have to make sure there are no nasty surprises tonight against Levski Sofia.
The first match ball of the season, and it's in Sofia.. As long as FC Barcelona can win tonight, qualification for the next stage of the Champions League will still be in their own hands. For Frank Rijkaard , however, this is no time to worry about what is going on further north as Werder Bremen host Chelsea. A win for the English and the Catalans would leave both sides in a very strong position, but anything else and Barça will have it difficult. If Barça lose and Werder win, Barça will be going into the UEFA Cup.
'Guddy' and his goalscoring instinct: After scoring twice at the Ono Estadi in Mallorca, Eidur Gudjohnsen is the man of the moment. The Icelander has scored seven goals this season, and his performance could determine whether or not Barça go into the next round. With so many attacking players injured, this is the time for the former Chelsea to come into his own, while the doors have also been opened to some of the less regular players , including Santi Ezquerro, who was also on target against Gregorio Manzano's side.
Levski on zero points: The Bulgarians are, along with Hamburg, the only team that has yet to register its first Champions League point. Stanimir Stoilou's side also has the poorest goal difference, having scored just one and conceded 13. That all points heavily in Barça's favour, but as the clichés go, history counts for nothing and there are no easy games in Europe. Having said that, Barça looked vastly superior when they met in September at the Camp Nou (5-0) .
Midfield options: With Xavi and Edmílson as good as fully fit (both went to Mallorca), Frank Rijkaard has a strong midfield and a variety of different options are on offer tonight at the Levski Stadium. Deco is a regular in the starting line up, and he is likely to be partnered by Andrés Iniesta, scorer of the other goal in Mallorca and one of the most in form players in the squad. Edmílson, who injured his ankle against Zaragoza, may well return to the team in place of Motta.