Messi sees off Celtic as Barça win Group C
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Lionel Messi's 91st and 92nd goals in the UEFA Champions League booked Barcelona's progress to the last 16 as Group C winners as they accounted for Celtic 2-0 in Glasgow.
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Barcelona saved one of their best displays in months to shake off a determined Celtic 2-0 in Glasgow and guarantee that they will not only qualify but also win UEFA Champions League Group C.
Two goals by a superbly in-form Lionel Messi – a half-volley from a terrific Neymar-lofted assist, then a calmly dispatched penalty in the second half – were the hallmarks of a wonderful night from the Argentinian. His assist also resulted in Luis Suárez hitting the post with eight minutes left.
The Scottish champions played with conviction and intelligence, their best chance nodded into the hands of Marc-André ter Stegen by Moussa Dembélé, but they couldn't cope with this Messi masterclass. More damagingly still, Borussia Mönchengladbach have now pipped Brendan Rodgers' men to the UEFA Europa League, even if Celtic beat Manchester City on matchday six.
Key player: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
The fulcrum of Barcelona's famous trident had been doubtful with a stomach bug but he showed no ill-effects here. From the outset he buzzed around with creative intent and intuitively he seemed to know where Neymar was directing his delicate, chipped pass for the opener. The little Argentinian did the rest, half-volleying into the bottom corner, and he later sent Craig Gordon the wrong way from the spot. It was business as usual from Messi, who took his overall competition haul to 92, closing the gap on Cristiano Ronaldo to three.
Barcelona's players know that their city's UEFA.com correspondent is Scottish. So I know I'll get a bit of teasing about this result. But I know something else too: that once the dust has settled and the points have been totalled, I'll be asked things like "how?" and "why?" and hear things like "if ONLY!".
These footballers have played in most countries, most stadia in the world, sometimes proclaiming themselves world or European champions. Sometimes they think they've seen it all. But they absolutely adore atmospheres like this. I've heard both Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernández lament the fact Spanish fans aren't as noisy, passionate or defiant as the Scots in general. And it's also true that they are inquisitive about what fires up a crowd to be so loyal, so volcanically noisy. I just tell them: "We're Scots ... it's in our blood'." They like that.
Celtic learning curve continues
Rodgers said his team had learned lessons from their record defeat at Camp Nou in September and for the most part his players proved they were willing students in this feisty encounter. A repeat of the 7-0 mauling was never on the cards, although Gordon restricted the half-time score to 1-0 with a point-blank save from Suárez. Dembélé, who missed a penalty in the first game, should have equalised early in the second half, and once again Celtic paid the price as Messi grabbed his second to put the issue beyond doubt.
Alex O'Henley, Celtic (@UEFAcomAlexO)
In the end this was a comfortable win for Luis Enrique's side as they progressed to the knockout stage, although the hosts fairly matched them in the first period. Indeed, had Dembélé converted his opportunity, the outcome might have been different. Instead, Messi was quickly putting Barcelona into an unassailable position with a spot kick at the other end. The free-flowing Blaugrana then emerged, and Messi and Suárez should have made it more emphatic. For Celtic, another learning experience.
Graham Hunter, Barcelona (@BumperGraham)
I've been Barcelona correspondent in every single one of Messi's UEFA Champions League campaigns and it's clearly attention-grabbing that he's never been this prolific in this competition before. Nine goals in four games is more than many of his seasonal tallies across the years. But it's my firm assessment that there's something else for Barcelona's future rivals to consider – Messi is back enjoying his football. None of the pain or frustration of the summer or last season's elimination by Atlético. His work-rate, assists, movement, vision and creativity aren't simply further demonstrations of his class but an indication that he's "enchufado" as they say in Spain. Switched on. And dangerous.