FC Barcelona's midfielder Gavi celebrates after scoring the 4-0 goal during the UEFA Champions League group H soccer match between FC Barcelona and Royal Antwerp FC at Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys in Barcelona, Spain, 19 September 2023. EFE/ Alejandro Garcia

Barca thrash Antwerp, PSG, Man City win; Atletico denied in Champions League

Sports Desk, Sep 19 (EFE).- FC Barcelona began their journey in the 2023-24 Champions League routing Antwerp 5-0 in group H, with Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City also picking up wins, as Atletico Madrid’s night was soured by a heroic last-minute goal from Lazio’s goalkeeper.

Kylian Mbappe of PSG and teammates applaud fans after the UEFA Champions League Group F match between Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund in Paris, France, 19 September 2023. PSG won 2-0. EFE-EPA/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON

Barca got off to a good start on their way to the round of 16 of the top European competition, one of Xavi’s objectives in this first part of the season. The Belgian team gave Barca a peaceful night in the first Champions League match in history held at the Lluis Companys Olympic Stadium.

Lazio's goalkeeper Ivan Provedel (L) scores the 1-1 goal during the UEFA Champions League, Group E soccer match between SS Lazio and Atletico Madrid, in Rome, Italy, 19 September 2023. EFE-EPA/EMILIANO GRILLOTTI

Joao Felix, author of two goals and an assist, shone again, Cancelo showed he will be a differential player on the right lane, and also in the midfield, and Lewandowski repeated as the goalscorer he has always been. But above all, Barça’s maturity as a team stood out against a rival far from belonging to the European elite.

Julian Alvarez of Manchester City takes a shot during the UEFA Champions League Group G match between Manchester City and Red Star Belgrade in Manchester, Britain, 19 September 2023. EFE-EPA/ADAM VAUGHAN

Felix’s goal came after a combination between Ilkay Gundogan – who started over Oriol Romeu – and Lewandowski. He controlled the ball with his left foot and hit a firm shot close to the right post of the goal defended by Butez just 11 minutes in.

He stood out again eight minutes later, crossing to Robert Lewandowski, who scored the second with the inside of his right boot. The Pole’s fourth goal with Barça this season, who along with Felix seems to have found a reliable partner up front.

In Barcelona’s third shot at goal came the third, the work of the unfortunate Jelle Baitalle, who scored an own goal after involuntarily deflecting a Raphinha cross.

After half time, Barca continued dominating and scored the fourth goal. This time the ball fell to Pablo Martin Paez Gavira, or Gavi, who invented a whiplash with his left foot in the right corner.

Changes began after the fourth goal. Oriol Romeu and Fermin Lopez came on first; Ferran Torres and Lamine Yamal also participated shortly before Joao Felix’s second goal, rounded off in the 66th minute with a header after a pinpoint cross from Raphinha. The Portuguese deserved his standing ovation when he left the pitch.

Over in France, a penalty goal by star player Kylian Mbappe in the 49th minute helped PSG, who defeated Borussia Dortmund 2-0 before full-back Achraf Hakimi extended the Parisian’s advantage.

Luis Enrique’s side now takes the lead in group F, made up of two other tough opponents, AC Milan and Newcastle United, who ended the night scoreless in Italy.

Before the break, Spanish referee Jesúus Gil Manzano denied PSG a penalty for possible handball, once the VAR was consulted. Shortly after the restart, he gave another one.

Ousmane Dembele’s incursion into the area caused a handball from Niklas Sule. Once the infraction was confirmed with the VAR, Mbappe scored his 41st goal in the Champions League in 62 games aged only 24. The goal served to release the Parisians, who quickly expanded the score.

In the 58th minute, thanks to a fantastic assist from Vitinha, Hakimi, an attacking fullback, was defined with quality in the heart of the area. The Moroccan international celebrated it in an austere way, as a way of paying tribute to his country, devastated by a recent earthquake.

In England, Two goals from Julian Alvarez helped holders Manchester City beat Red Star Belgrade 3-1 to start the defense of their title.

The Sky Blues conceded first in the only attack of the Serbians, who scored through Osman Bukari, but raised the tempo in the second half thanks to Alvaraz and Rodrigo Hernandez, who scored again in the Champions League after last season’s final against Inter Milan.

The Argentine led the comeback with a spectacular step in front of Glazer, after a pass from Haaland. Within a second, he stepped on the ball in front of the goalkeeper and with almost no angle pushed the ball into the net.

He culminated it a few minutes later with a direct free kick looking for the center, as goalkeeper Omri Glazer tried to punch the ball without success before it gently entered the net.

With the comeback already made, Hernandez found another goal with a shot from the edge of the area and sealed the match.

In Italy, a last-gasp goal by Lazio goalkeeper Ivan Provedel made it 1-1 at full time and ruined the night of an Atletico Madrid side that saw its craft and defensive rigor succumbed to a Lazio team that did not deserve to lose.

When it seemed all was decided and the stadium began to empty, Provedel raced from midfield to score, provoking a unanimous cry of joy that flooded Rome, testament to what it means to rescue a point in the team’s first Champions League match in three years.

Pablo Barrios had earlier scored from a deflection following a distant shot away from goal that came off Daichi Kamada to beat Provedel, who could do little about the sudden change in direction. It was the visitors’ only shot on goal of the first half.

But Lazio began to push in the final stages, unable to dismantle the Atletico defense, which used its tenacity, craft, and experience in the competition to keep ahead on the scoreboard.

But they couldn’t stop the epic on such a special night for Lazio and succumbed in the last seconds. Provedel emerged from the crowd to head in Luis Alberto’s agonizing cross and end the game in style, a goal that ruined the coach Diego Simeone’s night. EFE