Barcelona showed why they are the current Champions of Europe producing a football masterclass to defeat Italian leaders Inter Milan 2-0 at Camp Nou and move within touching distance of qualification for the UEFA Champions League knockout phase.
The Holders were under pressure before the game but, even without the injured Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, they were too strong for Inter as Gerard Pique netted in the 10th minute before a wonderful team goal was finished by Pedro Rodriguez with less than half an hour gone. Barcelona have not yet qualified, needing a point from the final group match at Dynamo Kiev, but now lead the group on eight points from Inter and Rubin Kazan on six and head into Sunday's El Clasico against Real Madrid in high spirits.
It was a losing return to Camp Nou for Samuel Eto'o as Inter suffered their first defeat in this season's competition and now have an all-or-nothing final home match against Russians Rubin. "It was a bit strange facing Barcelona but that is part of football," admitted Eto'o. "I would like to thank the fans for their reception and hope Barcelona qualify from the group along with Inter. Despite the defeat I am still confident we can qualify for the knockout phase and hope we face Barcelona again in the final at the (Santiago) Bernabeu."
Argentine Messi failed to recover from a thigh injury sustained at the weekend and started on the substitutes' bench along with Ibrahimovic, who also had a thigh injury denying him the chance to face his former club. With Messi and Ibrahimovic not fully fit, both are also doubtful for the Clasico against Real on Sunday, French striker Thierry Henry returned to the starting line-up. The Catalans also welcomed back Eric Abidal at left back after the Frenchman had been struck down with swine flu.
As expected, Barcelona legend Eto'o, who scored in both the 2006 and 2009 Champions League final wins, got a warm reception from the Camp Nou crowd. Eto'o left for Inter in the summer as part of a swap deal with Ibrahimovic and was hugging his old team-mates before the kick-off. He was not the only old boy returning with midfielder Thiago Motta, who came through the youth ranks at Barcelona, now a mainstay in the Inter midfield.
Barcelona went into the game on a knife-edge knowing that defeat combined with a Rubin win would eliminate them, but the Russians played earlier and drew 0-0 with Dynamo Kiev meaning The Blaugrana couldn't be knocked out.
Any nerves were eased with Pique's 10th minute goal after a flick-on from Henry and the second goal summed up what Barcelona are all about with a brilliant team move capped by Pedro's volley. Xavi released Dani Alves down the right with a clever pass and the Brazilian centred for Pedro to scuff in a volley.
Inter were being run ragged and the 'ole ole' rang out from the crowd when defensive midfielder Sergi Busquets did a spot of showboating midway through the first half. Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes almost gifted Inter a goal after miscontrolling but Dejan Stankovic failed to take advantage floating his chip over the goal.
Inter manager Jose Mourinho couldn't have been happy with the first half display and Esteban Cambiasso made way at half-time. Eto'o got his first glimpse of goal early in the second half but the all-action Alves did enough to avert the danger and Eto'o saw his penalty claim waved away.
Xavi had a header well saved shortly afterwards as the home side kept up their workrate with Henry particulary fired up. Inter were helpless and a cynical body check by Cristian Chivu on Andres Iniesta late on summed up their frustration.