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Xavi clinches top spot for Barcelona in Milan

AC Milan 2-3 FC Barcelona
Twice Milan wiped out Barcelona leads but Xavi Hernández's strike clinched victory and first place in Group H for the holders.

Xavi clinches top spot for Barcelona in Milan
Xavi clinches top spot for Barcelona in Milan ©UEFA.com

FC Barcelona clinched first place in UEFA Champions League Group H following an enthralling victory against fellow round of 16 qualifiers AC Milan.

Xavi Hernández's 63rd-minute strike put an end to an exciting San Siro spectacle and earned the European champions a deserved victory. Milan had twice equalised, Zlatan Ibrahimović scoring against his former employers after Mark van Bommel's own goal and Kevin-Prince Boateng cancelling out Lionel Messi's first-half penalty early in the second period. Yet they must settle for a runners-up seeding in the 16 December draw.

Messi was influential from the start, dropping back to help Xavi initiate attacks, bamboozling the Rossoneri rearguard with his mazy runs and picking out runners with his wonderful vision. With four minutes gone the Argentinian international teed up David Villa for a wild shot over the bar, while Christian Abbiati had to be at his best to deny Cesc Fàbregas, who was played in by Thiago Alcántara.

The pressure told on 14 minutes when Messi produced another pass into the left channel for Seydou Keita, whose cross went in off Van Bommel under pressure from Xavi. Despite the visitors' domination Milan could have equalised almost immediately when Boateng's drive was turned over the bar from four metres out by Robinho.

Not to be outdone Messi followed suit at the other end, clipping the bar from point-blank range following another pass from the excellent Fàbregas. By that point Milan had picked themselves off the floor to level, Ibrahimović racing on to Clarence Seedorf's through ball to beat Victor Valdés.

It was but a brief respite from the Azulgrana onslaught. Abbiati denied Villa with a remarkable reflex save, but could do nothing about the retaken penalty that Messi buried – having been booked for stopping his run-up first time – following a foul on Xavi. The 24-year-old has now scored six goals in the competition this season, and would have grabbed a seventh but for another fantastic stop by the defiant Abbiati.

If Thiago Silva's header from Seedorf's corner did not remind the visitors that the job was not done yet, then Boateng's wonderful 54th-minute goal did. The midfielder beat Éric Abidal with a clever back-heel before rifling a swerving shot past Valdés. Barcelona again responded, and Messi was again instrumental, playing another ball of surgical precision to Xavi, who finished with a low shot across Abbiati.