FC Barcelona opened their league campaign with a win at Celta Vigo, coming from behind to win 3-2 in an action packed second half. Eidur Gudjohnsen slammed home the winner with just three minutes left to play.
After most of the first half of Barcelona's first league game of the season had passed largely
without incident, few could have expected the five-goal thriller that this game was ultimately to
become. The surprise exclusion from Frank Rijkaard's starting line-up was Xavi, with Andrés Iniesta
preferred instead. As expected, Giuly stepped in for the injured Ronaldinho while Zambrotta
replaced Belletti to make his official debut in a Barça shirt.
And the visiting side dominated possession for most of the first forty minutes, but were alarming incapable of doing anything with it. The typically tight Celta midfield ensured that the Blaugrana were kept in their own half, and their forays on the Celta goal produced little real danger. Marquez did produce a cracking long-range free kick that went narrowly wide, and Deco forced Celta keeper Pinto into pulling off a tremendous save, but the chances were few and far between.
Celta, meanwhile, hardly caused any danger at all, only coming to life towards the end of the half, when they did manage to produce a couple of goalscoring chances before finally breaking the dead lock four minutes before the interval. Nené, recently signed from Alavés, struck from a narrow angle after a one-two with Canobbio, and Victor Valdés was unable to hold onto the ball, which fell straight into the path of Brazilian Baiano to score an opportunistic goal that Celta, in all fairness, probably did not deserve. There was still time for Messi to put Pinto to the test once again before the break, but the Argentinian's low drive was dealt with to perfection by the home goalkeeper.
Barcelona were an altogether different side in the second half. They started finding their way through the sea of sky blue shirts in midfield, thanks in no small measure to an outstanding display by Lionel Messi. The equaliser came in the 56th minute, when the young Argentinian threaded a pinpoint through ball to last season's league top scorer Samuel Eto'o, and the Cameroonian made no mistake in rocketing the ball home.
The goal was the confidence booster Barça needed, and also changed the dynamics of a game that would see plenty of end to end action over the final half hour. Just four minutes after Eto'o had scored, Barcelona were on top. After making an excellent run into the Celta area that had covered almost the entire length of the pitch, Iniesta laid on a deft square ball to Messi who produced an ingenious turn to lose his marker and score perhaps his finest goal ever for Barça.
Celta get lucky
That goal looked like being enough to secure the away win because Celta had done precious little to suggest they would be scoring any more goals. But in just a matter of seconds, and very much against the run of play, the scores were level again. Carles Puyol and Baiano clashed in the air in a challenge for a lofted Angel free kick from the by-line, and somehow the ball landed at the feet of Gustavo Lopez. The ex-Zaragoza could not believe his luck and tapped home a goal that sent Balaidos wild.
From Iceland with love
With time running out but Barça pushing forward for a deserved winner, Gudjohnsen was brought on for Giuly. And the Icelander once again displayed his tremendous knack for getting into goalscoring positions, having two excellent chances within minutes of coming onto the pitch. And then, in the 87th minute, and with Barça spurred on by the fact that Celta had been reduced to ten men following the sending off of Iriney for a second bookable offence, 'Guddy' caught a Deco pass on the chest and turned in the area to slam the ball home.
The former Chelsea striker's first goal for his new club meant Barcelona have got off to the perfect start in the league, with all three points taken from a visit to one of the most difficult grounds to visit in the competition.
Barça, winners of the last two Spanish leagues, stat another defence this evening. The first game is away to Celta, the place they mathematically secured the championship last season.
The league kicks off for Barcelona this evening away to Celta (21:00, Barça TV). The Blaugrana,
after winning the last two leagues in emphatic fashion, are very much the team to beat, and the aim
for the Catalans is to make it three in a row, something they have not done since the glory days of
Johan Cruyff's dream team in the early 1990s.
Barça: Rijkaard is only missing one player, but it is an important one. Ronaldinho took a knock in Friday's European Super Cup match and has not travelled. This suggests the attacking trio will be made up of Giuly, Eto'o and Messi. Three other players have been left out of the squad, namely Sylvinho, Belletti and Saviola. With two of the dropped players being full backs, there should be a good chance of Zambrotta starting his first official game for Barça.
Celta: Fernando Vázquez is in charge of the Galician club for the third year running, having brought the team back into the top flight and made his mark on the side - creating a team that is solid and hard to beat at the back, strong in midfield and always dangerous up front. Last season, along with Valencia, they had the best defensive record in the league, conceding just 33 goals. Fernando Vázquez will be missing one of his start signings, Guayre, tonight. The quick Canary Islander signed from Villarreal, who puts so much pressure on full backs, is injured.
Past encounters: Last season Barça won both games, both at the Camp Nou and Balaídos, but neither match was easy. Last year's win at Celta (0-1) was Barça's first after a poor run of three defeats and one draw in Vigo.