Reigning champions Barcelona were delighted to battle out a 1-1 draw away to VfB Stuttgart in a vibrant Champions League round of 16 first leg clash.

Brazilian striker Cacau headed Stuttgart into the lead but Zlatan Ibrahimovic levelled for Barca with what could turn out to be a crucial away goal.

Stuttgart now needs to score in the Camp Nou on March 10 in order to have any chance of reaching the quarterfinal, no easy feat at all.

The same as away to Olympique Lyon exactly a year ago, Barca were outplayed in the first-half but managed to steady the ship and impose their slick possession football in the second half.

“We knew that it was going to be a difficult game,” said Barca’s Andres Iniesta, “and the truth is that they really made us suffer in the first-half.” He added that “now we have the tie in our favour, but there are still 90 minutes left to play.”

Former Barca and Spain goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta, analysing the match for Television Espanola, said that “Barca reacted like true champions in the second half, showing a lot of character and quality.” Playmaker Xavi and Ibrahimovic passed late fitness tests, unlike right-back Dani Alves.

To the delight of the capacity crowd in the Mercedes-Benz Arena, Stuttgart tore into the champions with audacity, pace and penetration.

Their goal came after 25 frenetic minutes, when Cacau headed in a perfect Timo Gebhart centre from the right. It was no more than the energetic hosts deserved.

On three occasions Christian Gross’ side came close to snatching a second goal, and could have had a penalty for handball by Gerard Pique.

At the other end, veteran Stuttgart keeper Jens Lehmann fumbled a shit from Lionel Messi onto the post.

Pep Guardiola shook up his team at half-time, and Barca came out breathing fire.

Within seven minutes of the restart they were level. The Stuttgart defence failed to clear a corner and Sergio Busquets sent off a high centre for Pique. The defender headed down for Ibrahimovic whose volley was saved by Lehmann — but he put away the rebound to make it 1—1.

Barca dominated from then on, with 63 per cent of possession, and with the hosts looking tired after their first-half exertions.

Then 20 minutes from time there was a bizarre incident when Cristian Molinaro seemed to save an Ibrahimovic shot on the line with his arm, but no penalty was given.

More In: Football | Sport