Barcelona beat Porto 2-1 on Tuesday to reach the Champions League knockout stages for the first time in three seasons, in what manager Xavi said was “an important step” for the club.
Brazilian winger Pepe put Porto in front but Barcelona’s Portugal duo Joao Cancelo and Joao Felix both scored to turn the game around.
The former Benfica pair pounced on their old club rivals to ensure Xavi Hernandez’s side do not face a humiliating group stage exit, as has happened in the past two seasons.
“Today we are very happy, it is an important step in the project, it is very positive for the club,” Xavi told reporters.
“It’s important, the team grew, we beat a very good team, it’s a day to be very satisfied and satisfied.”
Defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk in Hamburg in their previous European game made Barca nervous, with poor domestic performances adding to their concern.
Despite conceding the first, Cancelo quickly equalized and set up Felix in the second half for the winner to delight the Barca fans at the Olympic Stadium on the city’s Montjuic hill.
“It was a final and we won it… we put the club in the ’16’, where it deserves,” Cancelo told Movistar.
“When the results don’t come, your confidence isn’t the same.”
Xavi shook up his side with Cancelo switching to left-back and Oriol Romeu dropped for Ilkay Gundogan after Barcelona’s 1-1 draw at Rayo Vallecano on Saturday, the latest in a string of substandard performances.
Inaki Pena kept his place in goal for the Catalans, while first choice Marc-Andre ter Stegen is out with back pain and made several saves as both teams had good chances.
Porto’s Pepe, who was booed by Barca fans because of his past at Real Madrid, became the fifth oldest player in Champions League history at 40 years and 275 days.
The veteran Portuguese centre-back was in the right place at the right time to block Felix’s early effort after Rafinha had tested Diogo Costa with a low drive.
Porto’s Mehdi Taremi beat Pena after 25 minutes, but the goal was ruled out for offside against the Iranian striker.
The keeper made a solid save to deny Galeno after bursting into life to save a shot, with the pressure mounting on the Spanish champions.
Porto made the breakthrough after 30 minutes, Brazilian winger Pepe lashing home the rebound after Pena had denied Evanilsson.
Before Barcelona let a scare set in, Cancelo pulled them back level with a fine individual goal.
The former Benfica defender, on loan from Manchester City, cut in from the left to outrun a defender and beat Costa with a confident strike.
Rafinha flashed a shot tantalizingly wide when Costa laid the ball on the edge of his own net to Pedri and Pena denied Alan Varela at the other end as the game went back and forth.
The second half started at the same frantic pace, with Felix smashing a shot over the top of the post.
Ten minutes later, the 24-year-old had his goal, exchanging passes with the onrushing Cancelo and neatly slotting home, his first for Barcelona since mid-September.
“The two played a great game today, I’m very happy with them,” Xavi said.
Rafinha went close twice in quick succession as the Catalans tried to extend their lead, but despite coming up short, this time they got the job done.
Barca defender Ronald Araujo’s huge punch at full-time showed he was on more nerves than he should have been.
Cancelo came off before the end but said it was precautionary and he would be ready for Sunday’s clash with Atletico Madrid.
“I’m sure I’ll be there against Atletico Madrid,” he added.
“Now we have to come together and win on Sunday.”
The defeat leaves Porto in second, level with third-placed Shakhtar on nine points — they face each other in the final group game on December 13 in Portugal.
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