Benfica crashed out of the Champions League after a 0-0 draw with Barcelona at Camp Nou, where Lionel Messi was stretchered off in the dying minutes of the game.
Coupled with Celtic’s 2-1 win over Spartak Moscow, Benfica finished third in Group G after they failed to convert any of their 11 on-target attempts against a Barcelona side who had already been assured top spot and progression to the knockout stage before the game.
Benfica came agonisingly close to snatching victory with the last kick of the game but Maxi Pereira blazed over the bar, and Barcelona’s evening ended in worrying fashion as Messi – who came off the bench having been rested by manager Tito Vilanova – was taken off after collapsing to the ground clutching the back of the knee.
Barca later confirmed in a statement that the player had sustained a bruised bone on the outside of his left knee and is a doubt Sunday's match against Real Betis, easing fears the injury was serious.
Vilanova’s decision to leave the Argentine on the bench in a bid to rest him and other first-team regulars, such as Gerard Pique, meant that a fresh-faced Barcelona side with a number of younger players was put out. They started with the same stylish passing game as their more experienced colleagues, but after things had settled down it was Benfica who created the clearer cut chances.
Barely 10 minutes were on the clock when Rodrigo beat a central defensive partnership of Carles Puyol and Adriano, but he shot wide, and shortly after Lima headed off target from six yards when former Barcelona player Nolito provided a perfect delivery.
David Villa led the line for Barcelona but he was caught offside on the first few occasions that the home team made it forward, and on the half-hour mark Benfica went even closer. This time Lima had a shot tipped onto the post by Barca goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto. The second-choice stopper then denied Ola John with another fine save as the visitors went into half time in control.
Immediately after the restart Benfica were at it again, this time Nolito shooting wide inside the area, but soon the home side kicked into gear.
Villa bore down on goal but got caught in two minds, and the introduction of Messi on the hour raised the spirits of the home crowd. His name had been chanted when the half-time whistle was blown.
With Messi on Barcelona looked more potent, and he drew a few fouls that led to free-kicks in promising positions. As well as a reaction from the opposition he also inspired a more alert approach from his team-mates, with Villa in particular appearing sharper.
It was inside the final 10 minutes that another flurry of action ignited the game. Messi rounded Artur and tried to chip the Benfica goalkeeper, but twisted his knee in the process. The time required to get Messi off the pitch led to five minutes of injury time, and it was during this period that Benfica went all out.
It all came down to the last few touches of the game, as Rodrigo was freed in on goal. His poor control seemed to have lost the moment, but the ball then broke for Pereira. His composure was absent however as Benfica’s hopes of progression disappeared along with the ball, which he smashed over the bar from 12 yards.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Jose Manuel Pinto - Barcelona: No outfield player impressed greatly and it was the Barcelona goalkeeper who was the busiest player, making some good saves as a combination of his alertness and some poor finishing from Benfica saw the Portuguese side go out.
Barcelona: Pinto 8, Puyol 6, Montoya 6, Adriano 7, Planas 6, Thiago Alcantara 7, Song 6, Sergi Roberto 6, Rafinha 7, Villa 6, Tello 5. Subs: Pique 6, Messi 7, Deulofeu 6.
Benfica: Artur 7, Luisao 6, Maxi Pereira 5, Garay 6, Nolito 6, Matic 7, Andre Gomes 7, Lima 6, Rodrigo 5, Melgarejo 6, John 7. Subs: Andre Almeida 6, Bruno Cesar 6, Oscar Cardozo 6.