Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Henry levels for Barcelona

Barcelona were reliant on, of all things, a Thierry Henry header to secure a 1-1 draw away to Lyon in a Champions League Last 16, first leg clash at Stade Gerland.

The Frenchman, renowned for his fleet of foot and not for his aerial acumen, dived in at the back post to secure a draw that Pep Guardiola's side deserved having rode out a first-half storm from the home team.

Aside from Henry's intervention with his head midway through the second half it was a match of relatively few surprises.

Juninho gave Lyon the lead with a free-kick, Victor Valdes was culpable for the goal.

Just as against Espanyol on Saturday, accusing fingers were being pointed at Barcelona's goalkeeper, this time just seven minutes in.

Juninho's free-kick from the left-hand side of the area that may have been intended as a cross sailed on and on until it was over the head of Barca's hapless keeper and Lyon were celebrating a lead.

The French champions could and should have doubled their lead immediately, but Karim Benzema scuffed his shot when he was in sight of the whites of Valdes's eyes.

Barca had their first sight of goal courtesy of Xavi, that most ardent adherent of Pythagoras' Theorem. From one of the midfielder's perfectly constructed triangles, Henry was slid through, only for the Frenchman to strike the face of the post.

Barca were typically dominating, if not yet enjoying in the truest sense of the verb, all of the possession, but it was Lyon's immediate route into the opposition area that was creating the biggest stir.

True, it helped that Barca call an accident waiting to happen their first-choice goalkeeper. After another flap from Valdes, Abdulkader Keita fluffed his kick.

Lyon had their own flirtation with the woodwork, Benzema turned on the edge of the area and fired in a shot to leave Valdes beaten once more but not, crucially, the keeper's left-hand post.

Barca are an enchanter. But if Jean-Alain Boumsong was occasionally susceptible to their spells, then his central defensive partner, Cris, was resisting manfully.

Lyon's bald-headed defender was but a spectator, though, as Sergio Busquets headed over after the impressive Dani Alves had swung a cross in from the right.

A chance-laden first half was not replicated during the opening stages of the second.

A deflected free-kick from Alves forced an improvised save from Hugo Lloris but opportunities were few and far between.

Juninho's delivery from set-pieces appeared Lyon's most likely avenue to a second goal but from a teased delivery in the 60th minute, Boumsong bundled the ball wide.

After Gerard Pique had forced a point-blank save from Lloris, the visitors' increasingly sustained and unanswerable attacks were rewarded with the game's equaliser in the 67th minute. Henry stooped at the back post to scored with a diving header after Rafael Marquez had flicked on a corner from Xavi.

Both teams concluded the match seemingly content with a draw which nevertheless favours La Liga's leaders.

But there is an ominous portent for Barcelona. Every time Juninho has scored in the first leg of a Champions League Last 16 tie for Lyon, the Frenchmen have gone on to progress to the next stage.

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