Soccer Football – Champions League – FC Barcelona vs Sporting CP – Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain – December 5, 2017 Barcelona’s Lionel Messi celebrates their second goal with Denis Suarez REUTERS/Albert Gea
BARCELONA, December 6 (Reuters) – Barcelona scored twice in the second half to beat Sporting Lisbon 2-0 at home on Tuesday, rounding off their unbeaten group stage campaign with a fourth win, while knocking the Portuguese side out of the competition.
With Lionel Messi left on the bench, Paco Alcacer gave Barca the lead in the 59th minute with a glancing header from a corner while former Barca defender Jeremy Mathieu clumsily slid Aleix Vidal’s low cross into his own net in stoppage time.
Barca had already secured their place in the last 16 of the competition as Group D winners before the game, while Sporting needed to win and for Juventus not to beat Olympiakos in order to reach the knockouts for the first time in nine seasons.
Their hopes were quickly dashed when Juan Cuadrado put Juventus ahead in the 15th minute in Athens and Federico Bernardeschi made it 2-0 in the 90th to ensure Sporting dropped into the Europa League whatever happened at the Nou Camp.
Barca coach Ernesto Valverde made eight changes to the team that had drawn 2-2 with Celta Vigo on Saturday, including picking Thomas Vermaelen in place of injured Samuel Umtiti and starting without Messi for the second European game in a row.
Messi came on moments after Alcacer had broken the deadlock and the Argentine instantly lifted Barca’s tempo. He went close to doubling their lead three times in quick succession, twice missing the target and forcing a save from visiting goalkeeper Rui Patricio.
At the other end Barca’s reserve goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen made an outstanding save to thwart his Dutch international team mate Bas Dost.
Sporting defender Mathieu left Barca after an inconsistent yet trophy-filled three-year spell at Barca but had the home fans chanting his name ironically after he unwittingly knocked in the second goal to seal the victory.