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    Ondrej Kolar frustrates Messi and Co. as Slavia Prague holds Barca to scoreless draw

    Nov 6, 2019
    PHOTO: AP

    BARCELONA, Spain — Barcelona was held to a 0-0 draw by Slavia Prague in the Champions League group phase on Tuesday, increasing the pressure on coach Ernesto Valverde after another lackluster performance by his star-studded team.

    The closest the five-time European champions came to a goal was Lionel Messi's shot that hit the corner of the goalframe in the 35th minute.

    Prague goalkeeper Ondrej Kolar also saved shots by Messi, Gerard Pique and Sergi Roberto to deny the hosts.

    Barcelona has eight points in Group F. Prague has two. Borussia Dortmund reached seven points after coming from behind to beat Inter Milan 3-2 at home.

    Barcelona extended its record unbeaten streak in Europe's top club competition to 34 consecutive home matches, a run that dates back to 2013.

    But some fans jeered the team for the poor showing that comes three days after Barcelona was stunned 3-1 at Levante in the Spanish league, ending a seven-game winning streak.

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    "We know there is a lot of pressure on the team," Valverde said. "We have to respond. This is part of the game. It is good that our fans demand more of the team."

    Valverde chose Ousmane Dembele to replace the injured Luis Suárez in the starting 11 for Barcelona.

    With his top striker out, Valverde altered Barcelona's standard 4-3-3 formation and put Messi at the front of a 4-2-3-1. But other than Messi's chances and a pair of flashes from his teammates, Prague didn't have much trouble holding its own. Barcelona forward Antoine Griezmann, for example, was a non-factor.

    Barcelona won 2-1 at Prague two weeks ago in a match that was evenly contested. And Prague coach Jindrich Trpisovsky dared to play at the Camp Nou with a very high defensive line on the road.

    The tactic worked to limit Barcelona's attack, which was mostly the same side that was upset at Levante.

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    "I am really happy with the draw," said Prague defender Michal Frydrych. "We had to help the player who covered Messi. When Messi got into one-on-one situation, we needed two or three players there. When we did not manage that, Koly (Kolar) helped us."

    Barcelona appeared to start on the right foot when Pique sent a long through ball to meet Nelson Semedo's run down the right, only for Kolar to stretched his foot to deflect Semedo's shot.

    Messi's best chance came after he ditched his marker near midfield to receive a pass, sped around two back-tracking defenders, and fired the a left-foot shot off the woodwork. Kolar then blocked another shot by Messi and a header by Pique before halftime.

    Barcelona lost left back Jordi Alba, who has already been hampered by injury this season, at halftime apparently to a left leg problem. Sergio Roberto replaced him and drew a save from Kolar after Dembele had set him up with a nice chipped pass.

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    Kolar also denied Messi in the 77th after he was assisted by substitute Ansu Fati inside the six-yard box.

    Pique will miss the next match against Dortmund on Nov. 27 for an accumulation of yellow cards after he was booked in the first half.

    "We have to solve this as soon as possible," Pique said. "We are not playing like we would like in the Liga and the Champions League, but we are not in a bad position. We must keep our calm and improve."

    Barcelona is tied on points with Real Madrid atop the Spanish league standings.

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    PHOTO: AP
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