Joao Felix struck twice as Barcelona thrashed Royal Antwerp to get their Champions League campaign off to a flying start. The on-loan Atletico Madrid striker scored in the 11th minute and set up Robert Lewandowski’s goal in the 19th. Substitute Raphinha made it 3-0 with a deflected own-goal from Jelle Bataille before Gavi put the result beyond doubt with his fourth goal in the 66th minute. Felix then scored his second, finishing superbly from a brilliant pass by Cancelo, before being substituted to a standing ovation for the on-loan forward’s debut.
Xavi’s men had failed to progress past the group stage in their last two Champions League campaigns. Still, they made light work of Antwerp at the Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys, the Catalan club’s temporary home, while Camp Nou undergoes renovations. The 5-0 rout was Barca’s most extensive in Europe since they blitzed Celtic 7-0 in 2016 and ensured the Belgians suffered a crushing defeat on their first competitive appearance on Spanish soil.
Despite being underdogs, Royal Antwerp started well and kept possession, although they needed their more illustrious host to find an attacking outlet. They also had to contend with the absence of key players, including center-back Bjorn Engels, goalkeeper Ortwin De Wolf, and defenders Kobe Corbanie and Jacob Ondrejka.
But a series of good saves from Ter Stegen prevented them from being punished, and the visitors’ first-half dominance eventually paid dividends. Barca dominated possession and quick passing, and Felix’s fine low finish put them ahead. Lewandowski doubled the advantage when he turned in a superb cross from Andreas Christensen, and after the break, Felix dummied the ball to set up the Polish striker’s 100th goal for his country. Then Gavi wrapped up the victory with a back-post header after a sumptuous pass from Felix.
Felix, who has a bright future at Barcelona, was the show’s star. He was diligent, intelligent and excellent at winning one-on-ones. His passing range was impressive, and he was the catalyst for much of Barca’s best play. He was also clinical, finishing expertly into the bottom corner for the opener and teeing up Lewandowski for the second. He drew a needless booking but was otherwise faultless and was replaced by 16-year-old teenager Lamine Yamal to a standing ovation for his Barcelona debut. The on-loan Levante striker is the youngest player to feature in the Champions League for the Catalan giants. He had two fabulous chances to become the youngest player to score for the La Liga champions in European competition, but Ter Stegen’s excellence denied his efforts. Barca will play Porto in their next group game on November 27. They then travel to Ukraine to take on Shakhtar Donetsk. The five-time winners are also in action at home to Red Star Belgrade on November 29.