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Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Barcelona draws 1-1 at Napoli in Champions League 1st leg

AP , Wednesday 26 Feb 2020
Barcelona's Argentine forward Lionel Messi (C) runs with the ball during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first-leg football match between SSC Napoli and FC Barcelona at the San Paolo Stadium in Naples on February 25, 2020 AFP
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On a night when Lionel Messi was expected to put on a show in the stadium that was once Diego Maradona's, the Barcelona forward did relatively little in a 1-1 draw at Napoli in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16 on Tuesday.

Dries Mertens tied Napoli's all-time scoring record by curling in a first-half shot and Antoine Griezmann equalized for Barcelona near the hour mark after being set up nicely by Nelson Semedo for the visitors' only shot on target.

Mertens matched former Napoli captain Marek Hamsik with 121 goals in all competitions for the club -- six more than Maradona.

Napoli has reached the Champions League knockout stages for the third time in six appearances but has never progressed further than the round of 16.

Key Barcelona midfielder Arturo Vidal was sent off in the final minutes after picking up two quick yellow cards, first for a hard foul on Lorenzo Insigne then for physical contact with Mario Rui after play had stopped.

Five-time champion Barcelona controlled the game for long stretches in Napoli's half but created few concrete chances.

An error from Barcelona left back Junior Firpo led to Napoli's goal, as Piotr Zielinski took control and surged forward before crossing to Mertens, who unleashed a precise shot into the far, top corner.

After Mertens performed a little celebratory dance, Napoli's announcer celebrated the goal by yelling the Belgium forward's first name seven times before the crowd responded with ``MERTENS!''

Minutes later, Napoli nearly scored again when Jose Callejon pulled back for Kostas Manolas, who missed just wide from close range.

Messi -- playing in the stadium where fellow Argentina great Maradona achieved some of his greatest exploits -- had his best chance nine minutes in when he evaded a crowd of defenders and got off a difficult shot from just beyond the area that missed high.

Before kickoff, fans held up signs featuring an image of Maradona that read ``Bienvenido a la casa de Dios'' _ Welcome to God's house.

Mertens had to come off following a rough foul from Sergio Busquets early in the second half that resulted in a yellow card for the Barcelona midfielder, who will be suspended for the return leg March 18.

Busquets then provided the through ball that led to Griezmnann's goal, with Semedo running in behind Mario Rui to set up the France forward.

Insigne and Jose Callejon each had chances to restore Napoli's lead, after which Messi was cautioned for running into Napoli goalkeeper David Ospina.

With the Naples area so far unaffected by the virus afflicting much of Italy, the match went ahead as scheduled. Some fans wore masks over their faces.

On Sunday, Barcelona visits Real Madrid for the ``clasico.''

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