Barcelona’s fate remains in their own hands, which may not have proved the safest place lately but it is better than the alternative. Three days after Ansu Fati turned 19, the kid who already carries so much of the Catalans’ hopes, smashed in the shot which leaves them well-placed to progress to the knockout stages of the Champions League.
In all probability, Barcelona will still need to beat Benfica to go through but victory in Kyiv averted the immediate risk of elimination, giving them a little breathing room and Xavi Hernández something to build upon when he arrives.
They had lived dangerously, their weaknesses exposed once more, their limitations laid bare, and hearts racing as chances for the home side slipped away in the final minutes, but Barcelona held on to Fati’s 69th-minute strike. Two 1-0 wins, both of them against Dynamo, have given them six points.
“It’s hard to see Barcelona qualifying for the next round,” Mircea Lucescu, the Dynamo coach, had said before this game, warning: “Benfica compete better than Barcelona do.”
That may well yet be shown to be true and certainly was not disproved here, but for now Barcelona have done enough to occupy second place in Group E. Just.
For all that the situation was dramatic, hope lay in what had been seen a fortnight ago at the Camp Nou and was quickly apparent again inside the Olympic Stadium: Barcelona may not be that good, but Dynamo are the team that they should be best equipped to defeat. The only team, indeed, that they had even scored against. Here they did so again, getting the vital goal at the point in which the doubts most took hold. Not that they entirely went away, even then.
Sergi Barjuan, the interim coach, had insisted his side would press high and to begin with they did so, almost taking the lead after just three minutes when Memphis Depay bundled through challenges inside the Dynamo area and fired off a shot from barely five yards that Ilya Zabarnyi blocked.
A quick clipped ball into the area from Sergio Busquets nearly brought another opportunity five minutes after and then Fati had a shot closed down. He too was a long way into the area, as was Jordi Alba when he swiped at Gavi’s cross on 15 minutes.
That early momentum though faded and soon Dynamo were able to find a way out, reminding Barcelona of their fragility with a sudden dash up the right wing from Viktor Tsygankov. Released into the space behind Alba, he pulled a superb ball back for Mykola Shaparenko right by the penalty spot. The shot was scuffed horribly but it was enough to scare Barcelona and a new game started, Marc André ter Stegen having to save sharply from Carlos de Pena not long after.
That was a relief: eight times this season, Barcelona had conceded from the first shot on target they had faced and there was more good news almost immediately when Robert Lewandowski scored the opener for Bayern Munich, putting them on course for a victory that would keep Benfica within Barcelona’s reach and ensure that the German champions would be already through as group leaders by the time Barcelona face them. Just as well, as control was slipping from them here. Emboldened, Dynamo pressed more insistently. Tsygankov slipped in Shaparenko whose low effort evaded Ter Stegen’s hand and went just wide of the near post.
At the other end, Clément Lenglet’s diving header against the post was ruled out for offside anyway and Nico’s header hit his teammate Depay almost on the line. Barcelona’s productivity, though, was limited and their vulnerability concerning.
Crosses continued to be the weapon to which they turned most often and the best chance of the opening 15 minutes of the second half came when Dynamo opened up Barcelona on the left and the ball came back to Oleksandr Karavaev to bend just past the far post.
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Then, an Oscar Mingueza ball fell to Fati and he turned, swung and sent the ball into the net for a goal that he dedicated to Sergio Agüero. Ter Stegen had to save from Serhi Sydorchuk then from Tsygankov, before Zabarnyi’s effort drifted just past the post, leaving Barcelona in second place.