An equalizer from Neymar saw Barcelona salvage a 1-1 draw at home to Atletico Madrid on Tuesday after a stunning opener by Diego Ribas in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal.
Atletico’s chances were dealt a major blow half an hour in when striker Diego Costa came off injured, while Barcelona had lost defender Gerard Pique to injury before that.
But Diego Ribas, who replaced Costa, stunned the Camp Nou 56 minutes in with a powerful shot from about 25 meters (yards) that grazed the fingertips of goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto as it soared into the top corner.
With Lionel Messi kept quiet by Atletico’s well-organized defense, Neymar stepped up to curl the equalizer around goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois in the 71st.
Courtois made a number of acrobatic stops after that to preserve the draw, including in the 85th when he tipped Messi’s free kick around the post.
“I think the series is still even,” Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino said. “I know if we can play like this again we have a great chance of getting through to the semifinals.”
Atletico, which leads Barcelona by a single point in the Spanish league, leaves with a valuable away goal before the return on April 9.
In Tuesday’s other quarterfinal first leg, defending champion Bayern Munich drew 1-1 at Manchester United.
For the fourth time this season, neither team emerged victorious but Atletico returns to the Vicente Calderon buoyed by its performance after having lost its top player to a hamstring injury that could sideline him from the second leg. Pique has already been ruled out.
“This is a team of men, who play with heart and pride, who never give up,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “I’m happy because we can compete with them. I’m very happy because we are in this.”
While Pique’s exit hurt Barcelona’s brittle defense, Diego Costa’s injury left the visitors without their leading scorer and scrambling for options off the bench with Raul Garcia suspended. Diego Ribas was the lone option.
Striker David Villa had Atletico’s best scoring chances in the first half as the former Barcelona forward curled wide a clear opportunity from inside the area five minutes in - before forcing Pinto into a diving stop just before halftime.
Between those efforts, Barcelona dominated possession, with Diego Godin’s sliding block keeping Andres Iniesta’s effort out before Diego Costa pulled up clutching his right thigh.
Atletico’s physical play proved wearing for Barcelona, and pressured Pinto into errant goal kicks like the one that gave Villa his opening opportunity.
Courtois was alert to a Messi header to keep it scoreless at the break, but Atletico regrouped and emerged for the restart to stun the hosts with Diego Ribas’ opener.
Neymar and Messi failed to link up on a cross in the 65th, as Atletico’s back four continued to make life difficult for the Spanish champions - until Iniesta spotted Neymar’s run and the Brazil striker curled his shot around Courtois.
Martino brought Alexis Sanchez on for Cesc Fabregas and shifted Neymar to the left side. The extra attacking player clearly helped as Iniesta threaded a perfect ball into the area for the Brazil striker to equalize.
The goal lifted the Camp Nou crowd and turned the tables on Atletico. But Courtois settled his team’s nerves by making a diving save to Iniesta’s long-range shot in the 73rd minute, before then stopping a late effort from Messi.
“It’s going to be such a hard game against a great opponent. It’s going to be a very passionate game,” Simeone said before calling on his players to seize the opportunity should Diego Costa not be available. “It’s up to the team and the players to respond and make up for his absence.”