Ivan Rakitic lifts Barcelona over Napoli in Miami matchup

Ivan Rakitic’s goal in the 79th minute lifted Barcelona to a 2-1 victory over Napoli in a lively pre-season encounter at Hard Rock Stadium.

The Croatian midfielder struck a crisply driven effort after a first half own-goal from Samuel Umtiti had canceled out Sergio Busquet’s opener for the La Liga champions at the home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.

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This was the first leg of two matches between the European giants, with the second encounter taking place in Michigan on Saturday.

With the Spanish and Italian leagues not starting until later this month, both clubs are still in pre-season mode, yet that didn’t stop them serving up an interesting first 45 minutes.

Antoine Griezmann, Barcelona’s $134 million signings from Atletico Madrid, was lively from the start, linking up well with strike partner Luis Suarez.

Brazilian Philippe Coutinho, who has been linked with a move away from the Nou Camp and has traveled to Miami, wasn’t in the matchday squad, having been granted extra time off following his exertions at the Copa America last month.


Yet it was the Italians, guided by former Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti, who created the more clear cut openings, with Lorenzo Insigne causing the Barca backline plenty of problems along with Belgian forward Dries Mertens.

A superb move on 18 minutes saw Insigne denied by a brilliant point-blank save from Marc-Andre ter Stegen before Mertens fired just wide.

Barcelona were struggling to find any rhythm, but seven minutes before the break, captain Busquets superbly curled the ball home, much to the delight of the pro Barca crowd of 57,062.

Three minutes later, however, Napoli deservedly drew level.

Ex-Real Madrid midfielder Jose Callejon’s effort was turned past Ter Stegen by Umtiti, who endured a difficult half at the center of Barca manager Ernesto Valverde’s defence, as did new signing Junior, who was making his debut.

Suarez and Griezmann were both replaced at half-time but the game lacked the intensity of the opening exchanges with a succession of changes from both managers. Croatian Rakitic fired wide on 56 minutes but chances were few and far between.

With 23 minutes remaining, Ousmane Dembele hit the post with a curling effort but only Napoli’s Arkadiusz Milik will know how he missed from close range a few minutes later, the Polish forward somehow putting the ball over the bar with the goal gaping.

And it wasn’t long before the excellent Rakitic made Napoli pay by drilling in from the edge of the area to secure the Barcelona victory.

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