There were no tears from Lionel Messi as he left the Camp Nou pitch after this Champions League game – just that familiar smile after another multiple-goal performance that secured a come-from-behind victory.
Messi scored a late double Wednesday to bring Barcelona back to win 3-2 over Spartak Moscow and successfully launch its campaign for a fourth European title in eight seasons.
It was his fourth double in seven games this season for a total of 10 goals.
The Argentina forward walked off that same pitch in tears after his last Champions League game, when Barcelona was eliminated by Chelsea in the semifinals last season. For a while, it looked like Spartak would spring another upset at Camp Nou, as Spartak fought back after Cristian Tello’s 14th-minute opener to lead 2-1 in the second half. The Russian club leveled through Dani Alves’ own goal in the 29th and Romulo then struck in the 59th to give the visitors an unexpected advantage.
But Messi, who equaled a European Cup record with 14 goals in the last campaign, tapped in Tello’s pass to make it 2-2 in the 71st and headed in Alexis Sanchez’s cross in the 80th to keep Barcelona undefeated in 17 straight home games in Europe.
Last April, Messi’s failure to finish had left him distraught and cost Barcelona a place in the final. But after being held in check by Spartak for the most of the game, the Argentina forward’s late strikes ensured Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova enjoyed his European debut.
”To talk about Messi is to talk about excellence in football,” said Spartak coach Unai Emery, who has never beaten Barcelona in 13 games with Almeria, Valencia and now Spartak. ”It is very tough to stop him.”
”We wanted to have the ball to defuse Barcelona’s pressure, and we were able to do so during spells, but Barcelona can break open the game in a matter of a couple of minutes.”
Celtic drew 0-0 with Benfica in the other Group G game on Wednesday.
Cesc Fabregas made the starting lineup in place of the injured Andres Iniesta in midfield, while Messi was accompanied by Pedro Rodriguez and Tello in attack, with Alexis on the bench after just being cleared by team doctors. Javier Mascherano started in defense in place of Carles Puyol, who was out with a knee injury.
Tello had Barcelona’s first clear chance 10 minutes in after Messi met his perfectly timed run from the left flank, only for the young forward to fire wide past the upright with only the goalkeeper to beat.
Barcelona’s injury problems mounted two minutes later when defender Gerard Pique had to be replaced by Alex Song after he hurt his left foot.
Tello soon made up for earlier miss to give the hosts the lead when the 21-year-old forward took Xavi Hernandez’s short pass, used one touch to get a better angle and then let loose a bouncing shot from outside the area that curled into the far corner of the net.
After failing to threaten Barcelona’s area, Spartak equalized when Nigeria striker Emmanuel Emenike surged by Mascherano and sent in a low cross that Song failed to intercept and Dani Alves redirected into his own net in a botched attempt to clear.
Xavi almost put Barcelona back in front before halftime, first from a corner for Sergio Busquets to head wide before lobbing a pass to Fabregas, whose header forced goalkeeper Andriy Dykan to tip the ball over his bar.
Spartak continued to soak up Barcelona’s pressure after the restart and was soon on the verge of a surprising win.
Romulo capped a nice team build-up by taking a pass from Aiden McGeady, dribbling past Barcelona’s Adriano before slotting under goalkeeper Victor Valdes to deservedly put Spartak ahead and send shudders through the Camp Nou crowd.
”We weren’t expecting Emery’s game plan,” Tello said, referring to Spartak’s mixture of playing deep and looking to counterattack with moments of seeking to control possession. ”It surprised me a lot. They caused us a lot of problems.”
After weathering some more scares by the emboldened Spartak, Tello teed up Messi for his first goal by squirming down the left side of the box, drawing the defense and laying off for the forward to fire into the net.
Barcelona pressed for the winner with forwards David Villa and Alexis on as substitutes, and the Chile international soon picked out Messi at the far post to head in his cross and claim the hard-fought win.
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