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Messi held in reserve as Barcelona advance to Champions League last-16

Last season’s finalists remain second in the group, a point ahead of third-place Sporting Lisbon

Juventus Paulo Dybala and Barcelona's Lucas Digne battle for the ball.
Juventus Paulo Dybala and Barcelona's Lucas Digne battle for the ball.
Image: Steven Paston

LIONEL MESSI STARTED on the bench but Barcelona advanced to the Champions League last 16 on Wednesday and clinched top spot in Group D after drawing 0-0 with Juventus in Turin.

Last season’s finalists Juventus remain second in the group following the stalemate, a point ahead of third-place Sporting Lisbon, and can secure their qualification with victory at Olympiakos on December 5.

Five-time European champions Barca came into the clash needing just a point to finish first in Group D, while Juventus needed to avoid defeat and Sporting to fail to beat Olympiakos in Lisbon in order to qualify.

But the Portuguese beat their Greek rivals 3-1 in Lisbon, leaving Juve needing three points in Athens to be sure of a last-16 place.

Barcelona star Messi surprisingly started on the bench, with Ernesto Valverde electing to rest the Argentinian ahead of Sunday’s top-of-the-table La Liga clash at Valencia.

“There are times when despite his great quality Leo has to rest,” said Valverde.

Messi came on after 56 minutes but could not follow up the brace he scored in the 3-0 beating Barca inflicted on Juve at the Camp Nou in September.

“Leo has played a lot since the beginning of the season. Like everyone he’s a bit tired,” continued the Barcelona coach.

“We thought that it could open up more in the second half and that it would be useful to give him a bit of rest with a view towards the championship.

“There’s always a risk of not playing him but it was a considered decision.”

Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri admitted it had changed the dynamics not seeing Messi starting.

“It’s the first time in 13 matches that I’ve played Barcelona that Messi hasn’t played, but when he came on the players controlled him well.

“For us it’s an important point.”

- Buffon returns -

Allegri recalled veteran duo Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Barzagli after they were left out for Sunday’s 3-2 defeat at Sampdoria following Italy’s failure to qualify for the World Cup.

In a first half lacking the quality expected of such a high-profile fixture, Brazilian Douglas Costa demonstrated early pace, forcing a save from Marc-Andre ter Stegen after two minutes at the Allianz Stadium.

Juventus’ livewire forward Paulo Dybala took a chance after 18 minutes following an Andres Iniesta blunder with the wily Argentine running into Ter Stegen.

Croatian midfielder Ivan Rakitic went closest for Barca after 22 minutes, when his free-kick struck the post after making its way through a crowded box.

Dybala looked like he was set to break through just before half-time when he picked up an Alex Sandro cross to go on a mazy run, but his shot from a tight angle flew over the bar.

After the break, a Luis Suarez free-kick was deflected over the bar before Messi came on in place of Gerard Deulofeu, and the Argentina forward also fired a free-kick high over Juventus stopper Buffon.

Barcelona’s Lucas Digne made the mistake of wanting to centre a ball instead of shooting directly at goal, letting a 68th-minute chance slip by.

But Dybala thought he had won it in stoppage time from a corner, only for Ter Stegen to push the shot away and guarantee his side a place in the knockout stage.

“We came to a difficult stadium against an opponent who are very strong at home, who normally create a lot of chances for themselves,” said Valverde.

“We could have had a few more chances but it’s not easy to finish top of such a tough group. We’re satisfied with our solidity.”

© – AFP, 2017

UEFA Champions League results on Wednesday:

Group A

CSKA Moscow (RUS) 2 (Schennikov 13, Jardel 56-og) Benfica (POR) 0

Basel (SUI) 1 (Lang 89) Manchester United (ENG)

Group B

Anderlecht (BEL) 1 (Hanni 63) Bayern Munich (GER) 2 (Lewandowski 51, Tolisso 77)

Paris Saint-Germain (FRA) 7 (Neymar 9, 22, Cavani 29, 79, Mbappe 35, Verratti 75, Alves 80) Celtic (SCO) 1 (Dembele 1)

Group C

Qarabag (AZE) 0 Chelsea (ENG) 4 (Hazard 21-pen, Willian 36, 85, Fabregas 73-pen)

Atletico Madrid (ESP) 2 (Griezmann 69, Gameiro 85) Roma (ITA) 0

Group D

At Turin, Italy

Juventus (ITA) 0 Barcelona (ESP) 0

Sporting Lisbon (POR) 3 (Dost 40, 66, Cesar 43) Olympiakos (GRE) 1 (Odjidja 86)

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