Ivan Rakitic double sees Barcelona strengthen grip

Barcelona strengthened their position at the top of Champions League Group E as a brace from substitute Ivan Rakitic steered them to a comfortable 2-0 win at BATE Borisov.

After dominating the first half without being able to finish off any of the string of chances they created, the defending champions broke the deadlock in the 48th minute when Rakitic blasted a shot past Syarhey Chernik from Neymar’s tee-up.

The Barca pair then combined again in the 65th minute, Rakitic receiving Neymar’s pass and producing a cool finish to seal the victory.

It leaves the leaders with seven points from three games and with a place in the next round looking ever-more secure, while BATE stay third in the pool with three points.

As expected, Luis Enrique’s men put their Belarusian hosts under pressure from the off, with Neymar — looking to add to his four goals in Saturday’s 5-2 Primera Division win over Rayo Vallecano — sending a fourth-minute strike into Chernik’s arms.

Sergio Busquets was next to try his luck, shooting wide, before BATE survived a series of corners, one seeing Chernik tip a Luis Suarez header over the bar and another the goalkeeper palm away Munir El Haddadi’s first-time hit.

Barca were forced to make a change in the 17th minute as the injured Sergi Roberto came off for Rakitic, but little altered in terms of the proceedings, with Dani Alves having a chipped effort saved and Neymar just failing to pick out Suarez in the danger zone.

Busquets poked the ball across the face of goal and narrowly wide on the half-hour mark, Marc Bartra fired off-target and Rakitic headed over an Alves cross when he should have done better.

Neymar burst forward only to scoop his shot wide just before the interval, but it seemed only a matter of time before the visitors found a way through against a BATE side offering little resistance.

The opener duly arrived three minutes into the second half as Rakitic made amends for his earlier miss.

The Croatia midfielder was allowed plenty of space as he collected the ball from Neymar just outside the box and he made the most of the opportunity, lashing a swerving shot into the net.

Neymar scuffed wide moments later and Munir sent an attempt off-target.

Rakitic then extinguished what little doubt might have been lingering about the outcome as he was again fed by Neymar and deftly lifted the ball over the advancing Chernik.

BATE finally had an attack of note in the 77th minute, although it only amounted to a weak effort from Mikalay Signevich that was easily dealt with by Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Neymar looked destined to get off the mark in stoppage time, but powered his attempt wildly into the stand.

Roma drew 4-4 with Bayer Leverkusen in a sensational Group E game.

In Arsenal’s Group F, Dinamo Zagreb lost 1-0 at home to Olympiacos, whose goal came from Aide Brown Ideye.

Vincent Aboubakar netted his seventh goal of the season as Porto beat Maccabi Tel-Aviv 2-0 to climb to the top of Champions League Group G. The hosts drew first blood in the 37th minute when Aboubakar tapped in from six yards, and Yacine Brahimi added Porto’s second just four minutes later.

With Chelsea and Dynamo Kiev playing out a goalless draw in the pool’s other game, Porto moved two points clear at the top.


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