BARCELONA, Spain — Luis Suárez found the best way to silence his critics at Camp Nou.
With Barcelona trailing against Inter Milan in the Champions League on Wednesday, the striker scored a pair of superbly-taken goals to complete a 2-1 comeback victory against a team that had dominated the first half at Barcelona’s stadium.
Despite reaching third place on the club’s all-time scoring list with 182 goals, Suárez has taken a lot of the blame for the team’s failure to win the Champions League in recent years for his lack of scoring on the road in Europe.
Those doubts were behind the jeers he received last week when he was substituted after a sub-par performance in a 2-1 win over Villarreal in the league.
He has responded by scoring three goals in two games, and his two against Inter showed why he’s still regarded as one of the best finishers in the game.
Lautaro Martínez put the Italian visitors ahead in the second minute and they had several chances to build their lead before Suárez leveled against the run of play in the 58th with a brilliant strike from outside the area.
It was then Lionel Messi’s turn to take over late, when he dribbled past two defenders while gliding down the right flank before finding Suárez. The Uruguay striker used an excellent first touch to take the ball past Diego Godín before slotting in the winner in the 84th.
“We knew that if we continued playing like that we would lose the game,” Suárez said. “But we showed patience in a difficult match. Our confidence made us win. These are three valuable points against a direct rival.”
Antonio Conte’s side had kept Messi in check for most of the match. But Messi, who had not played more than 45 minutes in any game this season due to injuries, saved his best for the critical moment to deal Inter its first loss of the season in all competitions.
“I am still trying to reach my peak form,” Messi said. “I am tired, but as I play more games I will get my form back.”
Barcelona shares the Group F lead on four points alongside Borussia Dortmund, which beat Slavia Prague 2-0 with two goals by Achraf Hakimi. Inter and Prague were left with one point.
In the first half Inter looked like the efficient machine that Conte has forged in Serie A, where his side leads the league after winning all six of its matches.
Conte barked orders non-stop from the edge of his area as his players broke Barcelona’s pressure with coordinated one-touch passing combinations starting from their own box.
“We troubled a great team like Barcelona for long parts of the game.” Conte said. “I’m still convinced that we deserved much more.”
Martínez was in Inter’s starting 11 as a replacement of the injured Romelu Lukaku, who was ruled out due to a leg muscle injury.
Pique’s ill-advised attempt to make a tackle in midfield led to a ricocheted ball falling to Martínez, who raced into area and fired inside the far post.
Barcelona was lucky to not be down by a bigger margin at halftime.
Inter’s best chance to double the advantage was denied when Marc-Andre ter Stegen made a reflex one-hand save to parry Martínez’s point-blank header in the 37th. Defender Nelson Semedo also hustled to block two goal-bound shots.
Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde gave more attacking punch to his team by removing Sergio Busquets and sending on Arturo Vidal.
And Suárez revived Barcelona with his equalizer.
The striker collected a lofted ball from Vidal and smashed a volley from just outside the box into the far corner.
Barcelona immediately showed more fight, and their passes became crisper and cleaner.
Messi is still waiting for his first goal of the season. But his run before assisting Suárez showed that he can still turn a match around even when not at his best.
With a burst of quickness, he juked past Kwadwo Asamoah on the right touchline and then cut back around another defender before linking up with his strike partner.
Messi started the match after being cleared to play by team doctors a day earlier. He had missed one match with muscle problem in his inner left thigh. Prior to Wednesday night, Messi had missed five matches due to injuries this season and been limited to just 120 total minutes in four appearances.