Robert Lewandowski keeps Barcelona alive in pulsating draw with Inter Champions League

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Barcelona stepped back from the edge but they still stare into the abyss. A late, late goal from Robert Lewandowski, his second of the night, keeps them in the Champions league – but only just and quite probably not for long. Three-two down, Robin Gosens having seemingly slipped in the knife with just two minutes to go, they were in the 92nd minute when the Pole headed Barcelona level. Their fate is not in their own hands, but at least they are not finished. Not yet, anyway.

This was a wild night, with an even wilder finish. From 1-0 up to 2-1 down, from 2-2 and chasing the winner that would change everything, to 3-2 down and then 3-3, Barcelona were left breathing, if barely. Having seemingly lost it and then found a way back in, they almost lost it again, only for Marc-André ter Stegen to make an astonishing save right at the death. Had that gone in, and it should have been done, they would have been knocked out of the Champions League with two games to go. Instead, they stumble on. They need to win their final two games and hope Inter do win either of theirs.

The place was packed and Barcelona were keen to get on with it, the fans whistling Inter goalkeeper André Onana for wasting time before he had any time to waste. It was true though that on his return to the stadium where he once lived but never played, he wasn’t in the kind of hurry the home side were – and yet it was Inter who had the first chance, when Lautaro Martínez escaped on the left and struck a shot into the side-netting.

As it turned out, the flag was up but that was an early glimpse of the threat that Inter posed when they went long beyond the press and of Barcelona’s vulnerability to that out-ball. That risk was revealed again when from a Barcelona corner Nicolò Barella pushed his way past Gavi and into the open space beyond, reaching the area and rolling the ball into the path of Denzel Dumfries, whose shot was blocked by the left arm of Ter Stegen. .

By then, Inter had come even closer as Edin Dzeko dived in to take Hakan Calhanoglu’s delivery on the bounce, his half-volley hitting the bar and dropping on to the line, where it was somehow scrambled away from the waiting Martínez. Yet it was Barcelona who carried the weight of the game, Lewandowski seeing an early header cleared off the line. The problem at that stage appeared to be that it was a little predictable, the ball put into the area too early. A superb angled ball from Eric García in to Pedri was an exception.

Robin Gosens (right) celebrates with his teammates after scoring Inter's third goal on the counterattack.
Robin Gosens (right) celebrates with his teammates after scoring Inter’s third goal on the counterattack. Photograph: Joan Monfort/AP

Chances came though, and Barcelona were growing. So was the corner count, reaching seven within half an hour. Raphinha volleyed over the clearest of the opportunities from Lewandowski’s cross. Onana almost knocked the ball into his own net as his dive saw him fall on to the ball from an Ousmane Dembélé shot, next he spilled a Sergi Roberto shot, just about recovering as Lewandowski slid in, and then he made a sharp save at the feet of Pedri.

Barcelona though did find a way through. From deep in the corner Raphinha won the ball and took Federico Dimarco and Henrikh Mkhitaryan out of the game with a clever pass into Sergi Roberto. Alone in the area, he sent it across to Dembélé, who sprinted in to score and didn’t stop running until he had reached the touchline and was in Xavi’s arms.

That was five minutes before the break; five minutes after it, Inter were level. A speared pass to Alessandro Bastoni caught Gerard Piqué behind his defense, playing everyone onside. Worse, not only did he step up late, he raised his hands to see the ball through, unaware of the danger behind him. Barella, to Pique’s horror, suddenly alone from close range, controlled, turned and provided the finish.

The urgency returned, the game opening up: This was a lot of fun – or it would have been had there not been so much depending on it, tension tearing at Barcelona, ​​on edge. Lewandowski volleyed over at one end. At the other Gavi had to make a sharp intervention, Ter Stegen saved superbly from Bastoni, and Marcos Alonso had to rescue Piqué deep inside his area. When Busquets gave the ball away and Calhanoglu struck another long diagonal into the box, Martínez stepped away from García and struck a shot that flew into the net off both posts.

Barcelona threw everything at this now. They had to, whatever the risks. There was no other way back. Frenkie De Jong, Alejandro Balde, Ansu Fati, Franck Kessié and Ferran Torres were all sent on, the noise level rising. Lewandowski scored one, had one ruled out for offside, then drew a save from Onana.

A long ball sent Dembélé scampering but he shot into the side netting. Time raced and so they did, Balde bombing up the line to deliver the ball that got them level. Stefan De Vrij made a mess of the clearance and Lewandowski was there, a deflected shot making it 2-2 and bringing brief hope and a wild finish but ultimately a troubling reality.

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