By Yuri Karpenko
Recently, Spanish Barcelona set a unique record — becoming the only European club to win every possible title throughout the year: its national championship, the Spanish Cup and Super Cup, the Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup and the World Club Championship. It seemed a dream come true for Belarus to host such a footballing giant for a home game. Fans in their thousands were delighted to welcome the Spanish team to Minsk Dynamo stadium, anticipating the most exciting match in the history of local football.
This was BATE’s first home match within the Champions League’s group stage, against the current champion of the prestigious event. The rival team boasted an array of top players, including world legend Lionel Messi. Hosting a match against such a football super-power was an outstanding event in itself, although it was clear that BATE could only hope to hold its own against star-studded Barcelona.
Despite modest expectations, Minsk was determined to enjoy the event as a celebration of football and the final score of 0:5 did nothing to dampen the mood. Losing to such a footballing grand involved no shame, as BATE and its fans were happy to accept. Naturally, the tough battle has no doubt taught BATE some valuable lessons.
Barcelona was celebrating its 400th European match, which seemed to magnify Lionel Messi’s high spirits and motivation. From very first seconds of the match in Minsk, Messi posed a threat to the Belarusians. They stood like a wall around the penalty line, to defend their goal, but Barcelona attempted to take BATE on its partially unguarded flank. After a pass from Dani Alves, Alexander Volodko sent the ball into his own goal and, within just three minutes, another upper kick brought a second goal. David Villa secured a precise throw to Pedro Rodriguez, who sent a header into Alexander Gutor’s net, and Messi was there to follow. Despite such setbacks, BATE enjoyed a beautiful moment during the first half; Volodko almost managed to score, simply lacking speed.
The second half began with higher spirits for BATE; regardless of nerves, they went on the attack, managing to push their opponents from their half of the field every now and then. However, BATE was no match for Barca’s speed, leaving their attacks rebuffed. Messi opened with another goal, sending the ball just under the upper bar. BATE several times approached Valdes’ goal without seeing their efforts to fruition and, finally, David Villa evaded our defence to bring the score to 0:5.
The outcome was no surprise, as Barcelona is clearly faster, with more technical skills than BATE; moreover, they were clearly confident of their ability to win, while BATE’s players felt themselves to be the underdog.
BATE’s coaches and players have learned a valuable lesson, stressed head coach Victor Goncharenko at the after-match press conference. He noted that the result was not pleasant but that he did not feel entitled to criticise the squad. Any team would feel nervous in front of such a footballing giant, and could be similarly paralysed. Mr. Goncharenko mentioned that, after two dozen such matches, BATE would obviously grow professionally but that Barca’s rapid play initially placed BATE in a truly unfavourable situation. Barcelona is strong in every component of the game — from ball control and co-ordination to fast reactions, and attack and defence skills. They are capable of outplaying any team in the world.
Barcelona coach Josep Guardiola emphasised that, despite a huge gap in the score, the match was not an easy one for his team. He admitted that some goals were achieved during moments of lost concentration and disorientation for BATE and noted that Messi (who scored twice) is one of world’s top footballers.
In another H Group match, Milan Italy defeated Czech Viktoria Plzen at home, 2:0; this gives them four points over two matches — like Barca. The Belarusian and Czech clubs have one point each. In the next round, on October 19th, BATE will face Milan in an away match while Barcelona will play against Viktoria Plzen, at its Camp Nou.