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Much-changed Barca still too good for Sporting

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Barcelona rounded off an unbeaten Champions League group stage as Paco Alcacer’s header and a late own goal from Jeremy Mathieu secured a 2-0 win over Sporting Lisbon on Tuesday.

Juventus will join the Spanish giants in the last 16 after they too were 2-0 victors away at Olympiakos, relegating Sporting to the consolation of a place in the Europa League in the new year.

With Barcelona already guaranteed top spot in Group D, Lionel Messi was left on the substitutes’ bench for the second consecutive Champions League game as Ernesto Valverde made eight changes from the side that started Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Celta Vigo.

Sporting needed to inflict Barca’s first home defeat in the Champions League for five years to have any chance of joining the Catalans in the knockout stages.

However, the Portuguese side showed little ambition until falling behind.

Barca pressed for an opener before the break but lacked the magic Messi so often provides to unlock a packed defence.

Luis Suarez nearly provided the spark when he cut inside Uruguayan international teammate Sebastian Coates, but placed his shot too close to Sporting goalkeeper Rui Patricio.

Alcacer opened the scoring just before the hour mark by flicking home Denis Suarez’s corner at the near post past a helpless Patricio.

And despite going in front, Valverde still handed Messi the final half-hour moments later as he replaced Aleix Vidal.

Bas Dost had a huge chance to at least hand Sporting a point, but he was left hugging fellow Dutchman Jasper Cillessen in disbelief after the Barca ‘keeper parried his effort from point-blank range.

Messi was denied his 98th Champions League goal by a stunning stop from Patricio 10 minutes from time.

However, Barca got a helping from one of their former players to round off the scoring in stoppage time when Mathieu turned Denis Suarez’s cross into his own net with Alcacer waiting to apply the finishing touch once more.- AFP