A defiant A-League All Stars team has frustrated Spanish giants FC Barcelona in their first visit to Australia, in a narrow 2-3 defeat last night.
In front of 70,174 ecstatic fans at the Accor Stadium the two sides did not disappoint, with the home side coming close to equalising with several late chances.
FC Barcelona manager Xavi Hernandez praised the overall quality of the opposition and the crowd, as well as the level of Australian League-based players, and talked about how surprised he was to see the high level of play.
“I think tactically [it was] very good [and] it (the standard of play) is excellent,” he said.
“They played really well and defended really well [and] created chances in the transition, and they counter-attacked especially in the beginning of the second half, and we suffered a lot.
“Technically it was so good so [it] was a big surprise for us… I have to be honest I do not follow a lot of the Australian League… more or less I [didn’t] expect this level, it’s so good.”
In the opening six minutes Barcelona’s Alejandro Balde saw his shot saved by All-Stars keeper Filipa Kurto and then hit the post and be cleared by the defence.
However, his teammate winger Ousmane Dembele was the danger man in the first half of the game, creating most chances and testing Kurto in the opening 12 minutes, with his own shot that curved past the post.
The tricky Frenchman’s determination finally paid off when his shot beat the keeper and deflected in off the post in the 33rd minute, sending the Accor crowd into raptures.
A-League All-Stars struggled to create any meaningful chances in the first half, but one almost fell their way, when Reno Piscopo was challenged in the box and went down, however the appeals from players were waved away by the referee, as they fans bayed for a penalty.
The second half started differently with the All-Stars forward line catching Barcelona’s defence asleep on the job and with one swift through ball Reno scored from Barcelona keeper Arnau Tenas’ parry in the opening seconds of the second half, making it 1-1.
The All-Star’s capitalised from another quick counter-attack when Barcelona’s defence was again caught napping and substitute Adama Traore scored in the 52nd minute.
The 2-1 scoreline sent the crowd into a frenzy as the A-League outfit led the Spanish giants.
Former Arsenal forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was introduced in the second half to change the state of the game and received a warm welcome from the crowd.
Barcelona pushed for an equaliser after going behind, but youngster Gavi’s shots failed to hit the target.
Seventy-thousand people turned up, and I am sure everyone has probably left here pretty pleased.
The All-Star’s attempted to punish the La Liga giants at every ball turnover with lightning-fast counter-attacks. Substitute Garang Kuol failed to hit the target when he left the Barcelona defenders on the floor, but chipped Tenas with the ball, which sailed tantalising past the post.
Barcelona’s January acquisition (the other) Adama Traore hit a powerful thunderbolt at substitute goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne in the 71st minute, which flew into the back of the net putting the teams again on level terms.
The Catalonian side was in a buoyant mood after the equaliser and they pressured the All-Stars, keeping them in their half. Barcelona academy graduate Ansu Fati took the opportunity to curl in the ball in the back of the net in 76th minute, making it 3-2, but missed another chance moments later which could have killed off the game.
Adelaide United youngster Nelson Irankunda also came on but hit the post in the closing minutes, with his rebound saved by the Barcelona keeper.
All-Stars head coach Dwight Yorke talked about how proud he was of his players but questioned the lack of fanfare towards A-League teams by Australian fans.
“It was a great opportunity to be given this [chance] to be the head coach of the All-Star’s team, when I took it, it wasn’t about anything else, it was about the opportunity to be the head coach here in front of the amazing fans,” Yorke said.
“Seventy-thousand people turned up, and I am sure everyone has probably left here pretty pleased. Maybe from our point of view we are a little bit disappointed to the fact that we didn’t win the game.
“I think it was a terrific performance from the players [who] deserve all the credit. All the accolades, in terms of praise they are likely to get, but ultimately we lost the game… from that perspective, we are a little bit disappointed of course.”
Main image by Anzaya Karim.