Barcelona have finished as winners of Group H in this season’s Champions League, but that was pretty much the only piece of good news to take from an embarrassing 3-2 loss away to Royal Antwerp on Wednesday night’s group stage finale in Belgium. Barça played a horrible game from start to finish and deservedly lost to the worst team in the group, who were also far from their best but didn’t need to try too hard against a Barça side that gave them all three goals and did next to nothing in attack the entire night.
Barça started the game by conceding a goal just 90 seconds into the action as the Blaugrana tried to play out from the back but Oriol Romeu gave the ball away inside the box, and Arthurt Veermeren fired home the opener for the home team.
Antwerp had a shocking early lead and absolutely nothing to lose, so they were more than comfortable with sitting back and trying to make it tough for the Blaugrana to create chances while trying to hit them on the counter for a dream second goal.
The home team’s strategy worked very well for the entire period as a Barça team filled with youngsters and reserves that don’t usually play together struggled to play cohesive team football and mostly resorted to sideways passing and one-on-one play on the wings.
The midfield of Romeu, Sergi Roberto and Fermín López struggled to control the pace of the game, and Alejandro Balde was tasked with winning individual duels time and time again and couldn’t generate offense by himself.
Barça seemed destined to go into the break without a real chance or a goal, but one moment of magic gave them a crucial equalizer 10 minutes before the break: Lamine Yamal played a wonderful through ball past five Antwerp defenders to find Ferran Torres in the box, and the Spaniard showed excellent composure to finish the move and find the back of the net.
At halftime Barça were not playing well and Antwerp deserved better for their performance, but the result was good enough to clinch first place for the Blaugrana ahead of the final 45 minutes of the Champions League group stage.
Barça made a dreadful start to the second half, losing one easy ball after another and almost conceding just three minutes into the period when Vincent Janssen found the back of the net but had his goal disallowed for a very narrow offside.
Then Barça almost went down to 10 men when Sergi Roberto was shown a straight red card that was changed to a yellow by VAR, and a couple of minutes later they were down 2-1 after Romeu gave the ball away again inside his own area and Janssen was onside and ready to fire a rocket into the bottom corner to give the home team a deserved lead after 10 wild minutes to begin the period.
Xavi Hernández had seen enough and made a triple substitution at the hour mark, with João Cancelo, Ilkay Gündogan and Pedri looking to bring some much-needed creativity to the Barça attack. The trio did improve the flow of Barça’s passing and they finally started to get into more dangerous positions, but they were still missing the final ball to unlock the Antwerp defense.
Xavi made his final two changes with 20 minutes to go as Marc Guiu replaced Robert Lewandowski and Marc Casadó came on for Sergi Roberto as the coach gave some important European minutes to a couple of promising youngsters while still in search of a late equalizer.
The equalizer came in the 91st minute as Ilkay Gündogan sent a free-kick into the box and Marc Guiu added to his growing legend with a bullet header, but Barça remarkably found a way to concede straight from the kickoff as substitute George Ilenikhena was played through on goal and put the home team ahead for a third time at the death.
The final whistle came to end a famous night for Antwerp, who end their debut Champions League campaign with a victory against the mighty Barça, who were anything but mighty on the night and only won the group because of FC Porto’s victory over Shakhtar Donetsk in the other game.
One would think things couldn’t possibly get worse after Girona, but this is a new low for Barça this season. Truly embarrassing in every way.
Antwerp: Butez; De Laet (Van Den Bosch 90+4’), Alderweireld, Coulibaly, Wijndal; Vermeeren, Keita, Yussuf; Kerk (Bataille 69’), Janssen (Ilenikhena 79’), Ejuke (Corbanie 79’)
Goals: Vermeeren (2’), Janssen (56’), Ilenihkena (90+2’)
Barcelona: Peña; Fort (Cancelo 60’), Kounde, Christensen, Balde; Fermín (Pedri 60’), Romeu (Gündogan 60’), Roberto (Casadó 76’); Yamal, Lewandowski (Guiu 72’), Ferran
Goals: Ferran (35’), Guiu (90+1’)