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A Lionel Messi hat-trick smoothed FC Barcelona's progress into the knockout stages as the holders eased to a 4-0 win against ten-man FK Viktoria Plzeň.
The unlikely hopes raised by the Czech champions' breathless start were dashed following Marián Čišovský's 22nd-minute dismissal, which afforded Messi the opportunity to score his 200th goal for Barça with a nonchalant penalty. He then brought up a half-century of strikes for 2011 just before the break and claimed a second hat-trick in as many games in added time after Cesc Fàbregas had headed in the third. It means both Barcelona and AC Milan have sealed their places in the last 16 with two games to spare.
Prior to kick-off, Plzeň captain Pavel Horváth had joked his team were eyeing a shock victory, but the hosts' punchy opening suggested there was substance to his light-hearted banter. When Barcelona conceded possession cheaply, Milan Petržela's devastating burst of speed took him clear only for Víctor Valdés to foil him before Daniel Kolář shot over.
There was a limit to Barça's generosity, though, and they snapped into their stride when Plzeň's guard dropped. The hosts were vulnerable when they gave the ball away outside their own box – Čišovský's desperate lunge stopped Messi as he shaped to shoot, but also sent the Argentinian tumbling. With the Slovakian defender sent off, Messi retained his poise to side-foot in from the spot.
With his team-mates seemingly content to allow him to hog the limelight, Messi kept Roman Pavlík warm on a chilly evening in the Czech capital. The 35-year-old goalkeeper, who was making his group stage debut, turned aside a pair of Messi drives, but when the impish forward exchanged passes with Adriano inside the box, Pavlík could not prevent the Barça star doubling his team's lead.
Fàbregas came within a whisker of fluffing Barça's cushion to a comfortable three goals shortly after the restart, and only an imperious flying save from Pavlík halted a dipping Messi free-kick as their pair resumed their personal duel.
Plzeň's forward forays were understandably limited, but when David Limberský's cross found Petržela unmarked at the back post, the Czech international should have done better than volley into the side netting. Fàbregas did not make the same mistake when Isaac Cuenca's flighted centre found him six metres out before Messi latched on to Gerard Piqué's back-heel to make it four and seal a two-point lead over Milan ahead of their matchday five meeting in Italy.
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