Sending off leaves coach in fit of pique

Koeman fumes at Barca defender's dismissal which could haunt them in Turin next week

Barcelona captain Lionel Messi skipping past Ferencvaros' Eldar Civic during their Champions League match at the Nou Camp on Tuesday. He opened the scoring in the 5-1 win. PHOTO: REUTERS
Barcelona captain Lionel Messi skipping past Ferencvaros' Eldar Civic during their Champions League match at the Nou Camp on Oct 20.PHOTO: REUTERS

BARCELONA • Lionel Messi became the first player to score in 16 consecutive Champions League seasons, but Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman was left ruing a moment of rashness that could cost his side top spot in Group G.

With minnows Ferencvaros and Dynamo Kiev in the draw, the Catalan giants and Juventus are firmly expected to duke it out to emerge as group winners.

Barca will travel to Italy to take on the Serie A champions next week, but they will be without Gerard Pique after the former Spain defender was sent off for blatant pull-back in the box 20 minutes from time in the match against Ferencvaros on Tuesday.

His red card did not cost Koeman's men, who were already leading 3-0, and while the Hungarian side got one back from the spot, the hosts added another two afterwards for a 5-1 thumping.

Still, Pique's absence for the crucial trip to Turin may prove to be decisive in who finishes the group on top and therefore, likely to have an easier opponent in the last 16.

Koeman was unhappy, claiming that the penalty was sufficient and a yellow card would have been a more suitable punishment instead.

"The penalty and the red card is very bad for us but we are getting used to playing with one less," the Dutchman told reporters.

"It happened at Celta Vigo (on Oct 1) and again today. It's too harsh a punishment.

"If it's foul, it's a penalty and a yellow card. I don't understand why the referee produced the red card. But we have to accept it."

Since 2015 - their fifth and last European Cup - Barca have not advanced to the final, prompting Messi's aborted request to leave the Nou Camp this summer.

Their season will not be judged by performances against Ferencvaros, but rather against the likes of Juve.

However, a commanding display should at least give some confidence to a team who have had a mixed start in La Liga and host Real in the first Clasico of the campaign on Saturday. After four league games, Barca are on seven points from two wins and a draw.

Besides Messi, Ansu Fati, Philippe Coutinho, and substitutes Pedri and Ousmane Dembele were all on target, leaving Koeman pleased.

"Overall, I'm happy. At times we played very good football, but sometimes we also slowed down too much," he said.

"That's best for a coach. If there were any doubts about Barca's goalscorers, we have shown tonight that we have good people, with the great Leo who has given two assists. We're going home happy."

Juve also made a winning start, with a double from former Real striker Alvaro Morata, who is on a season-long loan from Atletico Madrid, sinking Dynamo 2-0 away.

Despite Cristiano Ronaldo's absence due to a positive Covid-19 test last week, Andrea Pirlo enjoyed his first win as a coach in Europe's elite club competition, which he won twice with AC Milan during his playing days.

The victory came against Kiev coach Mircea Lucescu, who 25 years ago handed the 41-year-old his professional debut for Brescia.

In Group F, Ciro Immobile scored early against his former club Borussia Dortmund as Lazio marked their return to the Champions League after a 13-year absence with a 3-1 upset win.

The reigning European Golden Shoe winner later reminded his critics that he was labelled "Dortmund's worst signing" after a poor 2014-15 season before being moved on, but has since become a key player for club and the Azzurri.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2020, with the headline 'Sending off leaves coach in fit of pique'. Print Edition | Subscribe