BARCELONA, Spain (AP)The game hadn’t even kicked off yet and Barcelona had already lost.
Barcelona was eliminated in the group stage of the Champions League for the second consecutive season on Wednesday even before a 3-0 loss at home against Bayern Munich in a game that proved meaningless after Inter Milan defeated Viktoria Plzen 4-0 in the earlier game.
Barcelona needed Inter to drop points, so it began its match at Camp Nou already out of contention as Bayern and Inter secured the top two places in Group C. Barcelona will finish third and earn a Europa League berth. Bayern had already advanced and will be the group winner.
”It’s a shame because we had high expectations in this competition,” Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez said. ”It was a complicated group, and everything went against us. This Champions League has been very cruel to us.”
Sadio Mane scored in the 10th minute, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting added to the lead in the 31st and Benjamin Pavard closed the scoring deep into stoppage time to give Bayern its fifth win in five group matches.
”I don’t think Barca were expecting us to be so bold,” Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann said. ”The team made a statement tonight.”
The failure to advance is yet another humbling setback for the Catalan club, and one that will likely prove costlier than last season as the team went on a spending spree to boost its squad in the hope of recovering some of that money with a deep run in the European competition.
Barcelona came up short again despite the addition of players such as Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha and Jules Kounde in the offseason.
Lewandowski was held scoreless by his former club, which has now beaten Barcelona by a combined 11-0 in four group-stage meetings since the humiliating 8-2 win in the quarterfinals of the 2020 Champions League.
”We have to face our reality,” Xavi said. ”Bayern was better than us, they played with more intensity. It’s obvious that the elimination before the match affected us.”
Barcelona had a penalty kick reversed by video review just before halftime, while Bayern had a goal called off for offside in the second half.
Barcelona fans tried to support the club during the match and most applauded the squad after the final whistle blew at Camp Nou. Some had booed when captain Sergio Busquets was substituted in the second half.
Barcelona, which couldn’t get a single shot on target, has won only one of its last seven Champions League matches.
”It was a tough match to play knowing that we were already eliminated before the match started,” Barcelona defender Marcos Alonso said.
It is the first time since 1999 that the Catalan club failed to advance to the knockout stage in consecutive years, coinciding with the departure of Lionel Messi to Paris Saint-Germain two seasons ago.
Last year, Barcelona endured its worst Champions League campaign in about two decades, finishing behind Bayern and Benfica in its group while going through a dire financial situation in the aftermath of Messi’s departure.
This time, Barcelona didn’t even stay in contention into the final round of the group stage. After opening with a 5-1 win against Plzen at home, Barcelona lost 2-0 at Bayern and 1-0 at Inter. A 3-3 draw at home against Inter then meant it needed the Italian team to stumble in its final matches.
The home draw with Inter was followed by a 3-1 loss to rival Real Madrid in the first ”clasico” of the season in the Spanish league. Barcelona has won nine of its 11 league matches but trails Madrid by three points at the top.
Barcelona will now be consigned to the second-tier Europa League, having lost in the quarterfinals of that competition last season to eventual champion Eintracht Frankfurt.
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports