In a dramatic 3-3 draw with Inter Milan on Wednesday at Camp Nou, Robert Lewandowski scored two late goals to keep Barcelona in the Champions League.
With a spectacular header in stoppage time, the Polish attacker drew Xavi Hernandez’s team level at 2-2 in the 82nd minute and then again at 3-3 in stoppage time, after Robin Gosens put the Italians ahead with one minute remaining.
Barcelona’s Champions League fate, however, is no longer in their own hands, as they face a second consecutive group stage elimination if Inter Milan defeats ousted Viktoria Plzen at home on October 26.
Being on the verge of another early knock-out is a bitter blow for the Catalans, who hoped a summer signing spree including Lewandowski from Bayern Munich could restore their position among Europe’s elite.
“They were our errors tonight, we had the game in our hands, we had it in Munich, we had it in Milan and we had it here today,” bemoaned Xavi.
“We’re depending on another team to go through. They are our mistakes, we have to improve them. That’s the reality. The (improvement) process is longer than we thought in Europe.
“There are other competitions, La Liga, the Copa del Rey, the Super Copa. We have to insist, persist, believe.”
The hosts made the early running, but on the counterattack, Lautaro Martinez flashed a warning shot into the side-netting, with Inter sitting back but ready to explode forward.
In quest of his first goal in three games, Lewandowski had a header pushed off the line, while Edin Dzeko struck the crossbar.
Raphinha was unhappy after skewed a volley wide, but his work effort was essential when Barcelona broke the tie. The Brazilian winger chased down a ball in the corner and fed Sergi Roberto, who cut the ball over for Dembele to score from close range.
Inter reflected on the score at halftime and swiftly responded, scoring in the 50th minute when Gerard Pique played Nicolo Barella onside and the Italian rifled home.
The Inter midfielder sneaked behind Pique, who misjudged Barella’s movement and waived a cross past him, towards Ter Stegen.
The 35-year-old defender was making his Champions League debut, with Barcelona suffering the price for the injuries to Jules Kounde, Ronald Araujo, and Andreas Christensen.
Sergio Busquets, another of the team’s veterans, threw the ball away for Inter’s second goal, with a wayward pass. Martinez was found by Hakan Calhanoglu, and the Argentine attacker left Eric Garcia for dead before slamming home via the post.
Lewandowski eventually scored on the second attempt with a deflected drive after replacement Alejandro Balde found him in the box.
When Gosens scored late on from Martinez’s cross on yet another counter-attack, he felt he had handed Inter qualifying and eliminated Barcelona, but Lewandowski had other ideas.
Barcelona avoided elimination thanks to the striker’s stunning header, but their survival in the competition is still hanging by a thread.
There is little time for Barcelona to pick themselves up and dust themselves down. On Sunday, Real Madrid beckon at the Santiago Bernabeu in La Liga.