Barcelona, December 6: Goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen earned the praise of his coach after making a vital second-half save in Barcelona's 2-0 Champions League win over Sporting CP.
Cillessen denied Sporting substitute Bas Dost when Bruno Fernandes' cross found him unmarked a few yards from goal shortly after Paco Alcacer's headed goal had given Barcelona the lead.
The save was a key moment in the match according to Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde, whose side went into the match having already secured qualification for the knockout stages – unlike their opponents.
Barcelona, for whom Lionel Messi came on as a second-half substitute, laboured for long periods of the game but Valverde refused to criticise his players.
"Cillessen has made an extraordinary stop," Valverde told reporters. "They had the obligation to go for the victory, they waited for the time to pass and tried to beat us with the changes.
"Our idea is to dominate matches and generate scoring situations. At the same time, if the opponent does not give us chances, we try to do the best we can.
"Sometimes we are more brilliant, sometimes less."
Barcelona's performance for the first hour, with Luis Suarez and Aleix Vidal unable to break Sporting down, highlighted the team's reliance upon Messi, and Valverde acknowledged the significant lift created by his introduction after 61 minutes.
"You always think that with him things are going to get better," said Valverde.
"We know that Leo channels our attacking game, both because of his ability to finish, because of his ability to order and clarify the game, and find those passes that nobody sees."
Sporting coach Jorge Jesus sought to ease the disappointment of seeing his side exit the Champions League by reflecting on the strength of the Europa League, which they will enter having finished third in Group D.
"The Europa League is a great tournament, better now than a few years ago," said Jesus.
"We will enter that competition with the same options as other great teams. "Sometimes we forget who we're playing with. Ambition has limits.
"I congratulate my players for the effort they've put in."