Barcelona grabbed an away goal as they came from behind to draw against Napoli in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie in Italy.
Dries Mertens curled in from 18 yards in the first half to become Napoli’s joint top scorer of all-time, level with Marek Hamsik on 121 goals.
But Barcelona equalised after 57 minutes when Antoine Griezmann scored from Nelson Semedo’s low cross.
The visitors ended the game with 10 men as Arturo Vidal was sent off late on.
In the 89th minute, he fouled Fabian Ruiz, but then, after the Napoli man reacted, Vidal pushed his head into the midfielder’s face and was shown two yellow cards in quick succession.
The return match takes place at the Nou Camp on Wednesday, 18 March, although the Spanish La Liga leaders will also be without suspended midfielder Sergio Busquets as he picked up his third booking of this season’s tournament.
It came early in the second half when, with a foot raised, he caught Mertens, who limped off and had to be replaced shortly afterwards.
Barcelona had an injury worry of their own as centre-half Gerard Pique hobbled off in added time at the end of the match with an ankle injury.
Napoli had chances to go into the second leg in Spain with the lead but visiting goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen made two fine saves, denying Lorenzo Insigne and then Jose Callejon.
“They didn’t hurt us, they tickled us,” said Napoli boss Gennaro Gattuso. “It went wrong in one moment and they punished us.”
Napoli captain Lorenzo Insigne added: “We could have won, so we’re a bit disappointed. It was emotional to face players like [Lionel] Messi.”
Organised Napoli stifle Barcelona
Barcelona have been European champions five times in their history, but not since 2015 and last year they held a 3-0 lead against Liverpool in the semi-final, but then lost the second leg 4-0.
In an interview last week, Barca captain Lionel Messi dismissed his own team’s chances of winning the tournament, saying: “The way we are at the moment, I don’t think it’s enough to win the Champions League.”
In the opening half in Naples, Barcelona looked well short of a side capable of becoming European champions as they failed to have a single shot on target, frustrated by a well-organised and disciplined Napoli side.
The Italians went ahead when Barca left-back Junior Firpo gifted the ball to Piotr Zielinski and his pass found Mertens, who curled his effort past Ter Stegen.
Kostas Manolas then had a chance to make it 2-0 but shot narrowly wide from Callejon’s pass.
This was Napoli’s first game in the Champions League since they beat Genk 4-0 to finish second in their group in December – and then sacked boss Carlo Ancelotti three hours later.
Ancelotti became Everton’s boss later that month and his replacement, Gattuso, lost four of his opening six games in charge, although their form had picked up and they had won their past three matches before this game.
But Gattuso’s side could not claim a fourth successive victory as they conceded in the 57th minute when Griezmann converted Barcelona’s first shot on target.
However, the Italians, who now opted for a high-pressing game, came closest to winning the game, but both Insigne and Callejon were denied by excellent saves from Ter Stegen.
Despite having 67% of possession, Barcelona only managed two shots on target and both sides will be confident of advancing into the quarter-finals going into the second leg in three weeks’ time.
“In the end it’s a draw that is a good result considering we have another home game,” said Barcelona coach Quique Setien.
“We will not be able to count on Sergio Busquets or Vidal for the return, but we will find solutions to compensate.”
Napoli’s long wait for second knockout win – the stats
- Barcelona have progressed from each of their last 19 knockout ties in the Champions League after avoiding defeat away from home in the first leg.
- Since winning their first-ever game in the Champions League knockout stages (3-1 v Chelsea in 2011-12), Napoli have failed to win any of their last four games outside of the group stage (drawn one, lost three), with three of those coming against Spanish opponents.
- Barcelona have only won one of their previous nine away games in the Champions League knockout stages (drawn three, lost five), with that lone victory coming against Manchester United in April 2019.
- Gennaro Gattuso and Quique Setien took charge of their first Champions League games tonight – it is the first time in Champions League history that two managers are facing each other in the knockout stages in their first ever games in the competition.
- Napoli striker Dries Mertens has netted six goals in the Champions League this season; the most by any player for the club in a single European Cup/Champions League campaign.
- Barcelona’s Antoine Griezmann scored his first away Champions League goal since February 2017 (for Atletico Madrid versus Bayer Leverkusen); each of his previous nine strikes in the competition had been scored in home games.
- Arturo Vidal is the first Barcelona player to be sent off in the Champions League in the knockout stages since April 2011, when Pinto was dismissed against Real Madrid.