It wasn’t Lionel Messi who received the loudest ovation at Camp Nou on Monday. And it certainly wasn’t Neymar, who is long gone having left for Paris Saint-Germain last week.
Instead, it was Neymar’s Brazilian compatriots, Chapecoense, who Barcelona invited to take part in this season’s Joan Gamper Trophy match after last year’s devastating plane crash which killed 71 people, who were given the biggest reception. They were also given €250,000 by Barca as way of a donation.
It wasn’t just a noisy reception, either, but an emotional one. The final three players to be welcomed on to the Camp Nou pitch during the pregame presentation were three of the survivors from the accident: Alan Ruschel, Neto and Jackson Follmann.
Alan captained Chapecoense here, playing his first game since November’s tragedy. Neto, meanwhile, still hopes to play again, too, but Follmann’s professional career ended when his leg was amputated. The two took an honorary kick off moments before the game officially got underway to the backdrop of a green and white heart — Chape’s colours.
The focus then switched back to Barca, who could not be accused of going easy on their opponents, some of whom had only arrived from Brazil on Monday. Goals from Messi, Gerard Deulofeu, Sergio Busquets, Luis Suarez and Denis Suarez sealed a 5-0 win in front of a crowd of 64,705.
Within four minutes, Ernesto Valverde’s side could have been 2-0 up; within 12 minutes they were. Messi had already drawn a save from Elias and Ivan Rakitic had headed over when a swift team move and some unselfish play from the latter created a tap in for Deulofeu, who took the departed Neymar’s place on the left wing.
Deulofeu then turned provider, leading a counter-attack with Messi before teeing up the unlikely Busquets to let fly from 20 yards, Elias helpless as the ball hit the top corner.
Wellington Paulista had the visitor’s best chance, dragging wide from the edge of the box, but this was one-way traffic. Elias saved from Messi and Suarez but he couldn’t keep the former out when Deulofeu, laying on his second assist of the evening, squared for him to find the roof of the net from six yards.
Suarez then produced a low, driven finish to make it four in the second half after exchanging passes with Messi before the game slowed down amid the introduction of so many players from the bench.
Denis added the fifth late on, another Messi assist, and there was still time for Paco Alcacer to see a penalty saved by Artur Moraes after Nelson Semedo had tumbled in the box.
There was always the feeling Barca could have clicked through a few more gears if they wanted; pushed themselves a little bit more to make sure they’re in top shape for Real Madrid’s Spanish Super Cup visit this weekend.
But this wasn’t about that. It was something bigger. It was about honouring the fallen and helping rebuild a football club which, less than a year ago, found itself in an unthinkably sad situation.
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