Neymar sets up Rakitic as Barca wins at BATE; Leverkusen, Roma draw
BORISOV, Belarus — Neymar set up substitute Ivan Rakitic to score two goals as Barcelona won 2-0 at BATE Borisov in the Champions League on Tuesday (Wednesday Manila time), strengthening the defending champion’s lead in Group E.
Neymar, coming off his four-goal performance over the weekend, again led the team with Lionel Messi unavailable because of injury.
The Brazil striker created several opportunities that his teammates failed to finish off before Rakitic broke through from Neymar’s pass with a pinpoint shot from outside the area in the 48th minute.
Neymar again found Rakitic all alone in the 64th to guarantee three points.
They were Rakitic’s first goals for Barcelona since his opener in last season’s final against Juventus that the Spanish side won 3-1.
“I had had some chances to score before this game, but this was a perfect moment,” Rakitic said. “We worked very hard, perhaps we should have scored another goal, but they basically didn’t have a scoring chance.”
In the other group match, Bayer Leverkusen rallied late for a 4-4 draw against Roma.
The victory gave Barcelona seven points. Leverkusen is second with four, while BATE has three and Roma two.
Barcelona, which had struggled in defense this season, kept its first clean sheet in nine matches against a BATE side that didn’t muster a shot until 12 minutes from time.
Coach Luis Enrique gave the nod to young forward Munir El Haddadi to fill the void left by Messi, who is recovering from a left-knee ligament tear. Sergi Roberto took the place of Andres Iniesta, unavailable with a hamstring pull, but he only lasted 17 minutes before asking to be replaced – by Rakitic – with an apparent muscle injury.
Neymar, wearing gloves and long sleeves, had Barcelona’s first of many shots on goal in the fourth minute when he cut back and floated the ball into the arms of goalkeeper Sergei Chernik.
Shortly after, Neymar helped Luis Suarez and El Haddadi force saves from Chernik in the 10th on consecutive corner kicks before he passed for Dani Alves to also test the ‘keeper.
Sergi Busquets went the closest before halftime when he stretched to volley Neymar’s free kick back across the goalmouth, the ball bouncing just by the post on the half-hour mark.
Rakitic, however, had the clearest scoring opportunity of the first half only to head high from Dani Alves five minutes before halftime.
BATE quickly crumbled after the restart when Neymar drew the defense to him before laying off for the unmarked Rakitic to pick his target and blast the ball home.
“This was the game we had to play, we didn’t let up,” said Luis Enrique. “We had a lot of chances but it took Ivan to fire a great goal into the corner of the net. With the other match ending 4-4, this is a perfect result for us.”
Rakitic didn’t wait long for his second goal when Neymar slid the ball through a gaping hole in the BATE defense. Rakitic did the rest by coolly chipping a shot over the on-rushing goalkeeper.