Ferran Torres scored after replacing the injured Robert Lewandowski to help Barcelona win 1-0 at Porto on Wednesday, while teenager Lamine Yamal became the youngest starter in the history of the Champions League.
Lewandowski hurt his left ankle when tackled by defender David Carmo. The Poland striker tried to play on, stopping to have his ankle taped, but he was still limping and eventually came off in the 34th.
Torres capitalized on the only major mistake by Porto when Romário Baro weakly hit a pass toward his defense and then stood by while Ilkay Gündoğan raced past to pick up the ball and set up his forward to score the winner.
It was a tough loss for Porto after it generated several scoring chances in a second half that the hosts dominated at Estádio do Dragão.
“We said before the game that this match would go a long way to determining the order of the group, so we had to win it one way or another,” Torres said. “Today we showed that we don’t have to have the ball to pull out a win.”
Barcelona finished with 10 men after Gavi Páez saw a second yellow card in stoppage time.
Barcelona’s Yamal became the youngest starter in the history of the Champions League at 16 years, 83 days. Yamal already had the record for the youngest player to play for Barcelona from last season. He became the youngest scorer in a European Championship qualifier when he debuted for Spain last month.
Yamal was substituted by Marcos Alonso in the 80th with a stomach problem, according to Barcelona coach Xavi Hernández. Xavi also said that it appeared Lewandowski had only suffered a hard knock on his ankle.
In the other Group H game, Danylo Sikan scored twice as Shakhtar Donetsk erased a two-goal deficit to beat Antwerp 3-2 in Belgium.
Barcelona leads the group with six points. Porto and Shakhtar have three each, while Antwerp has zero.
Barcelona, a five-time European Cup winner, is trying to move past the group phase for the first time in three seasons, and has experienced some huge losses in the tournament since its last title in 2015.
Xavi said that while the win was nothing to brag about, he would take it since his team showed the character needed to win ugly on the road in the Champions League
“We were far from our best, but this is Europe, this was Porto, and we left it all on the field today,” Xavi said. “If we have been haunted by bad results (in the Champions League) in recent years, then today we were able to exorcise some of those ghosts.”
Porto coach Sérgio Conceição won the tactical battle against Xavi, even if his team lost the game.
Porto swarmed Oriol Romeu, the holding midfielder who has replaced Sergio Busquets this season at Barcelona, every time he touched the ball and that succeeded in disrupting the visitors’ possession-based attack.
The back-and-forth game favored Porto, which threatened on the counterattack while Barcelona was unable to do much more in attack beyond Torres’ opportunistic goal.
“I know this will sound like an excuse, but our best ball handlers were injured,” Xavi said in reference to injured midfielders Frenkie de Jong and Pedri González.
“As long as that remains the case, we have to show more calm, more patience, and more character.”
The second half was all about Porto attacking in waves and Barcelona relying on center back pair Jules Koundé and Ronald Araújo, along with goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, to keep them at bay.
Koundé and Araújo both had to make risky tackles in the area to stop Porto’s speedy winger Pepé after he broke free in the area. Porto striker Mehdi Taremi also went close before Xavi reinforced his midfielder with youngster Fermin López and veteran Sergi Roberto and his defense with Alonso to cling to the win.
“Our strategy was followed by the players, but to play at the highest level in the best competition in the world, everyone needs to be focused every minute,” Conceição said. “You can’t make certain mistakes in this competition, because you will be punished, like we were, even though we put everything into this game.”