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Stuttgart 1-1 Barcelona: Hosts Dominate Blaugrana But Zlatan Saves The Day

Stuttgart almost recorded a sensational victory over European champions Barcelona in the Champions League, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic equalised Cacau's opener to share the spoils ahead of the round of 16 second leg.

The line-ups contained few surprises, with Cacau continuing alongside Pavel Pogrebnyak for Stuttgart after his four-goal haul against Koeln at the weekend. Andres Iniesta started on the left of the Barcelona front three in preference to Thierry Henry.

Lionel Messi ran into the area early on, looking set to fire a left foot shot after cutting back. But he lost his footing completely and on the counter-attack Pogrebnyak was denied by Rafael Marquez as he looked to get a shot in at Victor Valdes.

Stuttgart made a decent chance on 12 minutes when Cristian Molinaro drove forward before feeding Cacau, but the in-form striker couldn’t quite tee himself up and ended up completely mis-hitting his effort at goal.

At the other end it was the usual story, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Messi each being denied by last-ditch tackles as the home side looked to defend deep against the marauding Catalans.

Ibrahimovic became goal-saver on 23 minutes, when he flicked away a right wing corner, before getting in front of Delpierre at the far post when the ball was swung back in. The Swede got a bang on the nose for his troubles, but he’d done his job.

But that chance had come as part of a real period of pressure from Stuttgart, and they deservedly took the lead in the 25th minute. Aliaksandr Hleb made good progress on the right, allowing Gebhart to cross delightfully towards the far post, where Cacau rose above Carles Puyol to power an unstoppable header past Victor Valdes and send the home crowd into raptures.

Within four minutes the Germans were hoping for a second when Pogrebnyak chipped a cross in the direction of the six-yard box, but the ball caught Marquez on the arm. Referee Kuipers rightly waved away appeals, deciding that the Mexican had little time to move his arm away as the ball came in.

Stuttgart continued to dominate and Cacau almost became provider when he brilliantly shrugged off Marquez before drawing Gerard Pique and playing a low ball into the six-yard box, but Puyol covered well. Khedira then had his own chance for a second when he got clear of Puyol on the left, but his quickly-taken toe-prod was blocked by Valdes.

The dominance of the home side was becoming almost embarrassing, as Hleb dispossessed Marquez deep in his own half and played a low ball for Christian Trasch, whose scuffed cross-shot spun across goal, escaping both attackers and defenders on its way out of play.

Despite the one-way traffic, Stuttgart almost gave up their lead five minutes before the interval when Jens Lehmann failed to hold a fairly weak left-foot shot from Messi and the ball spun out of his grasp and against the post, allowing the former Arsenal keeper to scramble back to collect gratefully.

The home side had without doubt deserved their half-time lead, but it lasted less than seven minutes after the break, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic finally registering his first goal in a Champions League knockout fixture.

As everyone retreated from a Barca corner, Sergio Busquets played the ball back in to the far post for Pique to head down for Ibrahimovic, and after the Swede’s first shot came back off Lehmann, he side-footed home with ease to bring the European champions level.

There were then attacks back and forth as Stuttgart looked to regain their advantage without risking a potentially fatal second Barca goal. The visitors introduced Gabriel Milito in place of Rafael Marquez at the back, knowing that the Mexican’s presence could be very important come the return leg.

There was a moment of real controversy on 68 minutes when Barcelona had a possible claim for a penalty. Lehmann failed to collect a left-wing cross, allowing Ibrahimovic to turn and shoot, but his goalbound shot was blocked on the line by the upper arm of Molinaro. The referee waved away the Catalans’ appeals, presumably believing it to have been another case of ball to hand.

Moments later, Molinaro broke through a crowd of players in the box to reach the byline before pulling back towards Cacau, but Valdes managed to claim the striker’s stab towards goal at the second attempt.

There followed a period of stalemate, as both teams seemed increasingly aware of their need to maintain the status quo at the very least ahead of the second leg in the Camp Nou.

Stuttgart had a late opportunity to take a lead to Barcelona when substitute Marica was tugged back by Pique on the edge of the box. The defender was shown a yellow card and the set-piece was drilled in by Kuzmanovic, but Valdes managed to hold on with attackers running in looking to take advantage of any slip up.

There was still enough time for Khedira to pick up a booking for a poor challenge on Lionel Messi which brought a strong reaction from Ibrahimovic.