Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

It’s a knockout for Barca after Messi nets treble

Masked avenger: Michael Ballack wore a mask during Bayer Leverkusen's defeat in Valencia last night to protect a broken nose

Champions League round-up

Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick as reigning champions Barcelona became the first team to book their place in the Champions League knockout stages with a 4-0 win at Viktoria Plzen.

Pep Guardiola's men proved far too strong for the Czechs, whose already tall order had become an almost insurmountable one after Marian Cisovsky was sent-off for fouling Messi in the 22nd minute.

Messi tucked away the resulting penalty — his 200th goal for Barca — and added his second in first-half injury time. Cesc Fabregas added a third on 72 before Messi completed his hat-trick in the last minute to guarantee the holders' passage out of Group H.

Milan are almost sure to join Barcelona in the knockout stages, but they missed the chance to make certain as they had to settle for a point against BATE Borisov in Minsk.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic appeared to put the Italians on their way to the win they needed with his 22nd-minute opener, but Renan Bressnan's 55th-minute penalty gave the Belarus side a point.

After Chelsea drew 1-1 in Genk Valencia moved back into contention in Group E with a 3-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen. Second-half goals from Roberto Soldado and Adil Rami saw the Spaniards home after Leverkusen's Stefan Kiessling cancelled out a first-minute opener from Jonas, which was the second-fastest goal in Champions League history.

Valencia's win takes them within one point of the second-placed Germans and three of leaders Chelsea.

Arsenal retained control of Group F with a goalless draw against Marseille maintaining the Gunners' single-point lead in the group. Borussia Dortmund staked their claim for a place in the knockout stages with their first win over Olympiakos. Kevin Grosskreutz's seventh-minute strike took them to within three points of Marseille.

Surprise package APOEL Nicosia continue to lead Group G after a dramatic 2-1 win over Porto in Cyprus.

Hulk appeared to have rescued Porto a point in the 89th minute when his penalty cancelled out an Ailton Almeida spot-kick for the home side, but there was still time for Gustavo Manduca to strike an injury-time winner .

Zenit St Petersburg are three points clear in second place after a 1-0 win over Ukraine's Shakhtar Donetsk. Nicolas Lombaerts scored the only goal of the game.

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