Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 1 November 2014

Super Messi at double as Barcelona march on

Get in: Barcelona scorer Lionel Messi celebrates with Cesc Fabregas

Lionel Messi ended his mini goal drought with a brace as Barcelona booked their place in the knockout stages of the Champions League with a comfortable 3-1 home win over AC Milan.

Messi had not scored in his past three matches in the Primera Division but broke the deadlock against the Italian giants after half an hour from the penalty spot.

Sergio Busquets doubled Barca's lead 10 minutes later and although Gerard Pique's own goal gave Milan hope, Messi settled matters in the closing stages.

The result moves the Catalan club six points ahead of third-placed Ajax with a far superior goal difference while Milan, who have endured their worst start to Serie A in 31 years, remain second in Group H.

Milan came into this clash desperate to put their domestic woes behind them but seemed content to sit back and wait for the chance to counter-attack.

That allowed the Spanish champions to set the tone and while they predictably dominated possession, they struggled to break down their opponents in the early stages.

Neymar went close when he latched on to Messi's through ball, but the Brazilian's shot was blocked by Urby Emanuelson.

Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati sprung into action in separate Barca attacks to deny Neymar and Alexis Sanchez, who then narrowly failed to add the final touch at the far post from Adriano's low left-wing cross.

The breakthrough arrived on the half hour mark as Messi ended his goal drought from the penalty spot after Xavi had expertly chipped over the Milan defence for Neymar, who was tugged back in the area by Milan defender Ignazio Abate.

Messi fired straight down the middle for his first goal in four games, his last strike coming in the reverse fixture against Milan two weeks ago.

Milan fell two behind in the 40th minute, Xavi curling a wonderful free-kick in from the left wing allowing Busquets to head past a helpless Abbiati.

The Rossoneri got themselves back into the match on the stroke of half-tim, former Real Madrid midfielder Kaka sending in a cross which cannoned off Pique and past Barca keeper Victor Valdes.

Messi settled matters seven minutes from time after exchanging passes with sub Cesc Fabregas before chipping over Abbiati.

Rafa Benitez's Napoli are setting the pace in Group F alongside Arsenal thanks to a 3-2 win at home to struggling Marseille, Gonzalo Higuain bagging a double.

Atletico Madrid made it four wins out of four by crushing Austria Vienna 4-0.

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