Lionel Messi was an animated Nou Camp spectator as Barcelona beat Inter 2-0 to all but qualify for the Champions League knockout stage.
Watching with his son Thiago, right arm in a sling and left raised to celebrate goals from Rafinha and Jordi Alba, he saw a Barcelona side, ordinary at times without him, but still too much for their opponents.
The morning papers in Barcelona had demanded that there be ’11 Messis’. That was asking a lot but they never looked like losing and have maximum points at the halfway point of the group stage.
Rafinha (left) celebrated after breaking the deadlock and putting Barcelona a goal up against Inter Milan at the Nou Camp
Jordi Alba scored the second goal of the game to put it to bed with eight minutes remaining after a hard-fought clash
The 25-year-old Brazilian latched onto Luis Suarez’s through ball and made no mistake with his decisive finish
Suarez jumped on Rafinha’s back as Ernesto Valverde’s side turned their possession into an opening goal
Rafinha is familiar with the opposition having spent time out on loan with Inter but he made them pay in the first half
Philippe Coutinho gave his compatriot a hug as Samir Handanovic was forced to pick the ball back out of his net
MATCH FACTS, TABLE AND MATCHZONE ANALYSIS
Ter Stegen, Roberto, Piqué, Lenglet, Alba, Rakitic, Busquets, Arthur (Vidal),Rafinha (Semedo), Suárez, Coutinho
Dembélé, Cillessen, Silva de Oliveira, El Haddadi, Brandáriz
Goals: Rafinha (32), Alba (82)
Handanovic, D’Ambrosio, Skriniar, Miranda, Asamoah, Vecino, Brozovic, Candreva (Politano), Valero (Martinez), Perisic (Keita), Icardi
Vrsaljko, de Vrij, Ranocchia, Padelli
Bookings: Skriniar, Brozovic, Martinez
Referee: Ovidiu Hategan
Rafinha scored the first goal of the game for Barcelona after a move that started with the goalkeeper.
Inter had their first chance on the quarter hour mark when Ivan Perisic got around Sergio Roberto and Mauro Icardi got in front of Gerard Pique but could not keep his shot down.
Barcelona responded immediately with Clement Lenglet heading Philippe Coutinho’s corner straight at Samir Handanovic.
Barcelona were missing Messi and the decision to replace him in the starting XI with Rafinha instead of the less predictable Ousmane Dembele at first looked like the wrong one.
Dembele’s anarchy has him in Ernesto Valverde’s bad books but safe choice Rafinha was not troubling Inter despite seeing plenty of the ball. One weak shot easily dealt with by Handanovic and then another replica after he had been teed-up by Luis Suarez summed up his first 20 minutes.
Lionel Messi is sidelined with a broken arm and watched the game with his son in the stands at the Nou Camp
Alba polished off Ivan Rakitic’s pass and wheeled away in celebration against the deflated Italian side
Alba finished off from a relatively tight angle into the bottom right corner of the net past the diving Handanovic
Barcelona wrapped up their win in the final ten minutes and the victory has them sitting atop Group B
In Messi’s stead, Suarez put in an impressive performance and tormented the Inter Milan defenders
But he kept going and when the reward came it was sweet against a team that didn’t want to sign him in the summer after he spent six months there on loan last season. They did not want to pay in August, they were paying now.
Suarez, the architect of so many of Messi’s goals put the ball invitingly into the space just in front of Rafinha and he attacked it with a left foot volley past Handanovic for 1-0. He had started the move spraying the ball wide to Suarez, and he had finished it in style.
It was his first goal in 18 Champions League appearances. Messi was out of his seat in the stands raising his left arm, his right in a sling, to salute the goal. The replacement had done his job and found the net.
The Uruguayan hasn’t reached the form of yesteryear this season but troubled Luciano Spalleti’s side
Barcelona defender Clement Lenglet prepares to make a tackle on Mauro Icardi as the Argentine looks to cut inside
Suarez picked up a yellow card from referee Ovidiu Hategan and protested his innocence after his challenge
Ernesto Valverde largely remained in his seat as he surveyed the play in front of him in a tight contest
Inter started the second half well with Luciano Spalletti bringing on Matteo Politano. The substitute went close as Barcelona’s defence started the second period sloppily.
Suarez woke them up with his contagious energy. He was booked for a foul on Miranda and when he was brought down on the edge of the area with the next attack he won a free-kick which he tried to convert ‘a la Messi’ under the wall. It didn’t quite come off but he won a corner. He then led a thundering counter attack which ended with Coutinho thumping the bar.
Valverde changed his Arthurs with 10 minutes left. Arthur Melo was applauded off and Arturo Vidal was whistled on. The disapproval was not universal but loud enough for the Chilean international to be aware that his recent social media activity had upset some supporters.
He applied himself immediately and he was involved in the second goal as a slick passing move ended with Ivan Rakitic playing through Jordi Alba who went beyond everyone and fired past Hananovic.
Alba dedicated the goal to Messi and the home supporters sang his name once more. When he comes back they will still be very much in control of their Champions League fate.
Sergio Busquets stretches to reach the ball under pressure from Danilo d’Ambrosio during the second half
Coutinho shows his close control as fellow Brazilian Miranda weighs up making a challenge on the former Liverpool man
Inter will still have high hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages but will be disappointed by the defeat
Alba’s goal confirmed that Barcelona made a giant leap towards the Champions Leage knockout stages