Pique header gives Barcelona drab 1-0 win over APOEL
18 September 2014, 09:22
Barcelona - An under-strength Barcelona got their Champions League campaign off to a solid if unspectacular start when Gerard Pique's header gave them a 1-0 win at home to APOEL in their Group F opener on Wednesday.
Barca predictably dominated the Cypriot visitors at the Nou Camp and, after waves of attacks, eventually found a breakthrough when Pique headed Lionel Messi's free kick into the bottom corner of the net in the 28th minute.
APOEL defended solidly and did well to thwart Barca's formidable strike force featuring four-times World Player of the Year Messi and Brazil international Neymar.
Messi came closest to scoring when he stung APOEL goalkeeper Urko Pardo's fingers with a rasping strike from Neymar's layoff five minutes before the break.
Last term's exit to Atletico Madrid in the quarter-finals was the first time Barca had failed to make the last four since 2006-07.
Under new coach Luis Enrique, a former Barca and Spain midfielder, they have made an impressive start to the season with three wins in three in La Liga and should have little trouble advancing from a Champions League group that also includes Paris St Germain and Ajax Amsterdam.
Luis Enrique selected a youthful-looking side for the APOEL game, with 19-year-old academy products, forward Munir el Haddadi and midfielder Sergi Samper, making their Champions League debuts.
Decorated playmaker Xavi, meanwhile, equalled the record for Champions League appearances of 142 held by former Real Madrid striker Raul before being replaced by Andres Iniesta after an hour.
"We suffered a bit. We tried to pass the ball around quickly but they defended very well," Xavi told Spanish broadcaster Canal Plus.
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"We tried attacking both through the centre and down the wings and I think APOEL put up a very solid defensive performance. But we got the three points we wanted and the ideal start to the group."
APOEL are competing in the group stage of Europe's elite club competition for a third time and reached the quarter-finals on their last appearance in 2011-12.