2:45 P.M. EST
Ask any casual soccer fan to name the best club in the world and few -- provided this conversation is taking place outside of Madrid -- will hesitate to respond, "Barcelona."
Led by the world's most captivating and relentless talent, Lionel Messi, the Catalan titans of La Liga have dominated domestic and international competitions seemingly for years. So, why does this opening match against Bayer Leverkusen in the Round of 16 in the Champions League matter so much?
For starters, Barca find themselves 10 points adrift of Real Madrid in La Liga and in very real danger of losing their grasp on the domestic title. Barring a collapse by Los Blancos in Spain, Barcelona will need to win the Champions League to retain its reputation as the world's best club.
On Tuesday, Pep Guardiola's team will face a soggy pitch and stalwart Bayer Leverkusen intent on putting the clamps on the intricate interplay that is Barcelona's signature. Can they do it? Will former Germany captain Michael Ballack rise to the occasion with all the world watching?
WATCH BELOW FOR ALL GOALS AND GAME COMMENTARY
|@ GoalUK : Game. Set and Match. What on earth do you do if you're Bayer Leverkusen? They're 3-1 down and STILL have to go to the Nou Camp...|
Having controlled the ball from the outset, Barcelona have taken a 3-1 lead over Leverkusen following the first leg in Germany. Lever showed a better accounting of themselves in the second half but their greater aggression certainly helped open opportunities for the visitors.
The flag brings an end to this Lever push. Obviously, a late "garbage time" goal here is huge given the format of the competition. They'll truly push to the whistle.
That's two changes in short order as Lever seeks to burn up this extra time before Barcelona could score a fourth and eliminate any chance of a comeback in the return bout at Camp Nou.
The movement begins with Messi shrugging off a very physical challenge. He finds Alves, who shows selflessness by holding up the ball on the break out wide. Rather than shooting he waits for Messi to charge into the box. Alves slides a cross across and Messi pokes it home.
He goes in late against Friedrich for a header. With the much taller player having the ball, Thiago goes directly to the body.
|@ WilliamBourque : Barcelona should be ahead 3-1 right now, Leno just made a spectacular save. Doesn't look good for me.|
Sanchez off the field while sitting on two goals. Cuenca trots out.
Leno reacts to a point blank header by Sanchez and palms it away. If Lever can can come back in this game then that will have been the key play. What a reaction!
Barca gets benefit of another call. This time Kiessling and Mascherano both went shoulder to shoulder. Barca ball. Bad call. The Lever striker is angry, rightfully so.
He carries a pack of defenders like one of those sharks surrounded by the smaller fish that scrounge its scraps. His cross is fallen on by a diving Leno.
After Busquets initiates contact out of touch, Castro is booked. Awkward fall by Sergio, fooled the referee.
And Leverkusen nearly equalizes as Kiessling gets his head onto a cross. Valdez saves but that was promising from the substitute. Of course, Barca sweeping other way... corner.
|@ GoalUSA : 76' Offensive switch as Kiessling on for Rolfes. Leverkusen knows that it has to go for it now.|
And that near-goal from Messi seems to have taken some of the fight out of Lever as Barca are on the doorstep. Pedro kills a move and then some last-ditch defending interrupts another.
|@ SW9Red : Even the Leverkusen defenders are applauding Messi everytime he dances through them|
|@ BurkeCherrie : Every time I watch Messi I can't help but wonder why Argentina struggle. That team has unreal attacking talent and no end product #confusing|
With an individual moment of brilliance Messi nearly scores. In cuts in from the left, skins two defenders, baits Leno into coming off his line and then skips over him, chipping toward the goal. The ball pings off the near post and both teams seemed pleased to have just witnessed that magic trick.
After Barcelona completely unlocked Lever's interior defense it came down to a footrace between Thiago and Leno and the home keeper gets to it first.
As Cesc curls in the corner but he can't get to it. The ball sails over the box but Barca keep it in. Eventually they play it out toward midfield. Ticka. Ticka. Tick. Tock. We're into the 70th minute.
Pedro on and Adriano off as the visitors prepare for a corner (coming off a deflected Messi shot).
Messi is disposessed at one end and Lever comes charging down the right flank. Kaldec cross but nothing comes of it. Lever fighting for the draw and Barca looking to exploit their aggression.
After nearly finding the netting with his last effort in some space, Castro proves physically no match for Alves in a tight spot. And here come Barcelona...
|@ 101greatgoals : Crazy stat: Busquets and Fabregas have completed 67 passes each, Leverkusen have completed 66 passes in total|
Lever had their equalizer as they pushed forward and pressured high up the field to get possession. Castro fired low and away and Valdez tipped it to his far post.