Barcelona boss demands more from champions
STUTTGART: Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola has demanded his side improve if they want to retain their Champions League title after being held to a 1-1 draw by Germany's Stuttgart in the last 16 clash.
"We had to fight, it was a hard game," Guardiola said after Tuesday night's match at Stuttgart's Mercedes-Benz Arena.
"In the second half we were able to free ourselves up and it was a good result. But if we want to go for the title in this competition, we are going to have to work hard and get better."
Striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, scorer of Barca's crucial second-half equaliser, agreed that it was a hard game, but predicted an improved performance in the second leg at their Camp Nou fortress on March 17.
"Stuttgart is a good team, they showed that today," he said.
"We next play at home, we are good at home and I think it will be a different game."
Stuttgart goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, who was famously sent off in Arsenal's ill-fated 2006 Champions League final against Barca, said there might be an upset.
"Maybe we'll score a goal. And then they will have to come back, and then it will be a hectic English style game. That would be nice," the ex-Germany star said.
But Stuttgart's coach Christian Gross, who has turned his side's fortunes around after taking over from the sacked Markus Babbel in December, was under no illusions.
"Now we have to go and get a result in Barcelona. We can't be too optimistic," he said.
The German side gave all they had on Tuesday night, particularly in a high-tempo first half, but they managed to convert only one of their many chances when Brazilian-born striker Cacau struck in the 25th minute.
Stuttgart's goal came when a perfectly delivered cross from Timo Gebhart found Cacau on the far post, fresh from scoring four goals against Cologne on Saturday, who headed past Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes.
A string of other chances followed as the home side ran rings around the ragged-looking Spanish league leaders, but the German underdogs were unable to capitalise.
The tide turned as Barca's class came through in the second half when Stuttgart began to tire.
Swedish striker Ibrahimovic broke Stuttgart's resistance on 52 minutes, equalising by slotting the ball underneath Lehmann at close range after the German managed to block his first attempt.
Stuttgart only really looked dangerous again on 63 minutes when Sami Khedira, like Cacau a member of the Germany squad, had a chance to put his side ahead, but his shot went wide.
Barca never looked like losing as their all-important away goal knocked the stuffing out of Stuttgart who became increasingly desperate.
In the last 10 minutes, Barca closed the game down and the tired Germans hardly got a look-in.
"Hats off to Stuttgart, they played a very good match," said Barca's French star Thierry Henry.