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Andrés Iniesta tested Manu Herrera early on

Elche CF 0 – 0 FC Barcelona
What were we all worried about ? With a game to go, away next Sunday to Sevilla, Elche secured their Primera División future with another unspectacular, yet still solid, performance to shut out the mighty Barcelona. Roared on by 34,000 odd spectators, none of whom had a clue what was occurring elsewhere in other games,

Elche did what they had to do to secure another priceless point, quite possibly their most valuable of the entire campaign. At the final whistle, no-one seemed quite sure that a point would be enough, an uncertainty that would last just moments.

In recent weeks, Richmond Boakye and Cristian Herera have shared the lone striker duties, tonight, though, manager Fran Escribá started without either in a set up that spoke of a determination not to lose. For their part, Barcelona made do without midfield kingpin Xavi Hernández who had to settle for a place on the bench, otherwise the two starting XI’s were pretty much as expected.

Looking a little out of sorts, Barcelona controlled the opening exchanges without ever really putting the home side under any particular pressure. As is their wont, they had the lions share of possession, which Elche seemed happy to concede, but weren’t really able to fashion that many clear cut chances.

Andrés Iniesta went close with almost a quarter of a hour on the clock when his fizzing shot from the edge of the box was helped onto the bar and over by the excellent Manu Herrera. From the resulting corner, the same player scuffed another shot horribly.

With the close control of Messi an ever present threat, Elche had to concentrate and it was in defence, as so often already this season, that most of their hard work was done. Up front, the pace and quick feet of loan signing Garry Rodrigues looked to be Elche’s best route to stand-in Barcelona keeper José Manuel Pinto.

The Dutch born Cape Verde international needs to find the target more often though, (when he does, the results are spectacular, just ask Willy Caballero).

Goal-less at the break and so far so good for Elche.

Barcelona began the second period as they had for large parts of the first, keeping hold of the ball and shifting it around, seemingly at will.

Messi was denied early in the half by the knees of Manu Herrera as the Argentine magician tried, unsuccessfully, to create half a yard of space. By now, in the middle third of the half, Elche were increasingly under the Barcelona cosh and only outstanding defending kept the scores level.

As the visitors pressed on, dominating possession in dangerous areas, Elche fashioned, and then squandered, a decent opportunity of their own. Coro and Carles Gil combined well on the hour only to see the latter spurn the chance.

His body language was plain to see and the player himself knew he could and should have done considerably better. Apparently content to soak up pressure in their own half, Elche were playing a dangerous game and would end up grateful for the Catalan profligacy in front of goal.

Barca looked the more determined of the two to try and win the thing but in their anxiety to open the scoring they were leaving gaps at the back as they committed men forward. Fran Escribá rang the changes, sending on Boakye for the final twenty minutes and the Ghanaian had a hand in one of the best chances of the match.

Beating two Barcelona players just inside his own half, he strode powerfully forward and released Rodrigues down the left with a superb weighted ball. With his first touch, the 23 year old skimmed Pinto’s crossbar with a rasping drive off his left foot.

With time running out and with the visitors showing an increasing urgency, there was one final scare for the home side. Hitherto, full back Damián Suárez had played a disciplined game and, unusually for him, had barely ventured forward all match. It was his foul on Tello, though, that put his side under pressure for the final time.

Such is the quality of Barcelona, a winning goal late on would have been no surprise. Instead, Xavi’s free-kick floated over to the back stick with nobody in a Barcelona shirt attacking the ball.

Full time Elche 0 – 0 Barcelona

When the fixture lists were published way back in August last year, the sharp intake of breath was audible. Barcelona – expected to be going for the title again – were the last side Elche fans, fully expecting to be in some kind of relegation dogfight, wanted for the final home match of what was expected to be a long and difficult campaign.

Instead, Barca proved altogether less durable than previous vintages and Elche more obdurate than expected. Something had to give and, in the end, in this match nothing did.

Having survived, and survived well, Elche can now subconsciously relax next weekend in their dead rubber at Sevilla’s Ramn Snchez Pizjun Stadium. Atltico Madrid now have to travel to Barcelona’s intimidating Camp Nou where, if they can avoid defeat, they’ll be crowned La Liga champions. Barca, for sure, will have other ideas. Beating Atlti is a tall order, but this season probably has time for one last twist.

Filed under: http://www.theleader.info/article/43618/

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