Thu, Nov 22, 2012 - Page 20 News List

UEFA Champions League: Messi’s magic leads Barcelona into last 16

AFP, MOSCOW

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi keeps his eyes on the ball in their UEFA Champions League match against Spartak Moscow in Moscow, Russia, on Tuesday.

Photo: EPA

Lionel Messi continued his prodigious goalscoring form with a brace, as Barcelona qualified for the Last 16 of the Champions League with a 3-0 win over Spartak Moscow, who have been eliminated.

After Dani Alves had put them ahead after 16 minutes, Messi bagged his double before halftime to extend Barca’s lead at the top of Group G, although Celtic can still overtake them if they win their last two games and Barca slip up.

Messi, who was top scorer in the competition for a record fourth time last season, now has five goals from five games and he has 80 for the calendar year as he pursues Gerd Muller’s 85 goals for Bayern Munich and Germany in 1972.

He moved level with Ruud van Nistelrooy on 56 Champions League goals behind Raul, the competition’s all-time scorer with 71 goals.

Spartak coach Unai Emery was hampered by a number of injuries, including Artem Dzyuba and Aiden McGeady, while Nicolas Pareja was suspended.

Carles Puyol returned to the Barca defense in their weekend victory over Real Zaragoza for the first time since he dislocated his elbow in the Champions League clash with Benfica early in October. However, Tito Vilanova chose to rest him, with Javier Mascherano partnering Gerard Pique at the heart of the defense.

Barca forged the first opportunity when Pedro Rodriguez chested down a Xavi Hernandez pass, but his volley was saved well by ’keeper Andrey Dikan.

Spartak may be struggling in Europe, but they have been playing well domestically and are the top scorers in the Russian top flight. A well-worked corner routine could have seen them go ahead, but Dmitriy Kombarov side-footed over from close range.

Barca were less forgiving, as Alves fired home a loose ball on the edge of the area minutes later.

The visitors had control of the midfield, but Spartak were dangerous on the break and Marek Suchy failed to hit the target from an Emmanuel Emenike cross after being left unmarked.

Barca were fully exposing Spartak’s weakness at the back, with Messi getting his first of the night.

Andres Iniesta saw his shot saved by the ’keeper, but Messi, following up, knocked the ball home with his weaker right foot.

Spartak were also stretching Barca’s defense, but they continued to waste their openings with ’keeper Victor Valdes not even forced into making a serious save. Jose Jurado crossed for Emenike, but he also failed to hit the target.

Emery said Spartak’s aim was to copy Celtic’s achievement, where they beat Barca 2-1 at home in their last match, but they were leaving wide spaces at the back for a charged-up Barca, and Messi gave them a commanding 3-0 lead before the break.

Latching onto a Pedro pass, he went round the keeper and slotted home.

After the restart Barca eased off and Spartak had more of the ball, but with the quality Barca have in attack they continued to create chances.

Cesc Fabregas linked up with Iniesta, but after receiving the ball back he was denied by another good save from Dikan and then minutes later Pedro headed over from close range.

Emery tried bringing on Zhano Ananidze and Welliton Soares, but the Spartak players’ heads had started to drop and apart from an opportunity for Evgeni Makeev, when he failed to control the ball in the box, they made few chances to get back into the game as the match wore on.

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