MILAN (AP) — Lionel Messi once again watched from the sidelines and Barcelona’s attack struggled without him as the Spanish side drew 1-1 at Inter Milan in the Champions League on Tuesday despite dominating for large periods of the match.
The result nevertheless meant Barcelona became the first side to secure qualification for the knockout.
Messi had traveled with the team to Milan but Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde opted not to risk the star forward, who hasn’t played since fracturing his arm last month. The visitors still nearly managed to win the match when substitute Malcom netted with seven minutes remaining, moments after coming off the bench. But Inter has made a habit of scoring late goals and did so again as Mauro Icardi leveled in the 87th.
Barcelona could have won Group B with a victory at San Siro but a combination of wayward finishing and fine saves by Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic means it will have to wait until the final two group matches.
It remained top of the group, three points ahead of Inter and six ahead of Tottenham which beat PSV Eindhoven 2-1.
Messi injured his arm in a Spanish league match against Sevilla on Oct. 20 and missed the 2-0 victory over Inter in the last round, but had been training with the team in recent days.
However, Messi wasn’t even on the bench at San Siro.
Luis Suarez has made up for Messi’s goals domestically — with five in his past two matches — but has yet to score this season in the Champions League.
The Uruguay forward went close on a number of occasions, and almost gave Barcelona an early lead with an audacious flick that flew narrowly over the bar.
Suarez had two chances in quick succession in the first half but Milan Skriniar cleared from almost on the goalline and the striker’s effort from the resulting corner flashed across the area.
Barcelona dominated and had 65 percent of the possession, with 27 shots to Inter’s 10.
However, Handanovic was equal to everything the Catalan club threw at him until Valverde brought Malcom on with nine minutes remaining.
And just two minutes later, Malcom had his first goal for the club, curling a shot between two Inter players and into the back of the net.
But Icardi turned in from close range after Lautaro Martinez’s cross had been twice deflected.
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