Tito’s luck ran out tonight as things did not go as planned at the Camp Nou. Vilanova had the luxury of guaranteed top spot in the group and tinkered with the lineup, eager to blood youngsters he felt deserved a shot at the big time. Messi started on the bench even though he was only a single goal adrift of Gerd Müller’s record of 85 goals in a calendar year.
Planas, Sergi Roberto and Rafinha were promoted from the B team for tonight’s game and Pinto, Montoya, Alex Song, Thiago and Tello were also given rare starts on the European stage. Puyol, Villa and Adriano added some experience to an otherwise experimental line up.
Benfica carved out plenty of chances but were wasteful in front of goal. The Portuguese were eager for three points as a win for Celtic in Group G’s other fixture would end their Champions League season.
The Blaugrana defence looked shaky and the side clearly missed its regular midfield maestros as they seemed incapable of imposing their will on the game.
A sloppy through ball from Song happened to make its way to Cristian Tello whose heavy first touch let him down and he couldn’t beat Artur from close range. Benfica continued to press and Lima hit the post after Pinto got a hand to his close range effort.
When the situation in the second half failed to improve Messi was called upon in the 58th minute. The decision to bring him on seemed reasonable at the time, however it may well be a defining decision for Vilanova. The Argentine failed to have much of an impact and was stretchered off the pitch with five minutes left on the clock. After rounding Artur en route to goal, the keeper clearly fouled the Ballon d’Or candidate and Messi tried to turn the ball into the net before falling to the ground clearly in deep pain and distress. The Camp Nou fell deathly silent as they watched him being stretchered from the field.
The game ended scoreless and for the visitors a solitary point was too little to progress past Celtic in the group. They left the Camp Nou with their Champions League dream in tatters. There will be no celebrations in Catalunya tonight either until definite news breaks on the health of Lionel Messi. Without the talismanic number 10, suddenly Gerd Müller’s record seems a lot further away, and Real Madrid seem a lot closer.
Get well soon, Leo!