It’s been quite a week for Leo Messi. First he scored a hat-trick in Saturday’s 5-1 victory over Sevilla to take Telmo Zarra’s all-time scoring record in La Liga. Then tonight he netted three more goals in Barça’s impressive 0-4 win at Apoel Nicosia to become the highest ever scorer in the Uefa Champions League with 74 goals. The game’s other goal came from Luis Suarez who broke his duck for Barça which with Xavi coming on as a substitute to reach a record of 145 Champions League games made it a memorable night for the blaugrana. The only negative point was the sending off of Rafinha who along with Dani Alves will miss the final game of Group F against PSG at Camp Nou which Barça need to win to finish above the French champions.
Messi began the game on the right wing to allow Suarez to play through the middle but as early as the third minute the Argentinian had drifted infield to receive from Pedro before firing the first shot of the game which Apoel keeper Urko Pardo saved with his feet. Suarez also had an early shot straight at Pardo as Barça started strongly. Apoel sat very deep in a flat 4-4-2 formation and with Barça pressing impressively the Cypriot team hardly came out of their half until the last 30 minutes.
Barça played a patient game but with purpose. The ball was moved quickly from side to side to try and open up the packed defence and the chances came throughout. With the score at 0-0 the best occasions fell to Suarez whose shot was stopped by Pardo’s feet and Alba who volleyed narrowly over after a brilliant pass from Messi.
The deadlock was broken in the 27th minute when Alba,who had another excellent game at left-back, played the ball forward to Suarez who turned Guilherme, knocking the ball through the defender’s legs before shooting Thierry Henry style past Pardo with the help of a deflection off Carlao.
The visitors dominance was briefly interrupted by yellow cards for Alves and Rafinha but Barça were soon back on the attack with Messi feeding Rakitic but the Croatian’s shot was blocked. Then in the 38th minute Messi played a one-two with Rakitic before finding Rafinha who shot from the edge of the area and Messi had continued his run to deflect the ball right-footed past Pardo. The goal was Messi’s 72nd in the Champions League taking him past ex-Madrid icon Raúl who had previously held the record with 71.
The second half looked like being a simple case of how many more goals for Barça. Pedro fired inches wide after Suarez dummied Messi’s pass. Then in the 58th minute Alves collected an Apoel clearance and played a rapid ball in to Messi who swivelled smartly and clipped another right-foot shot past Pardo and just inside the far post to make it 0-3.
Xavi and Adriano replaced Rakitic and Alba while the introduction of De Vincenti finally gave Apoel a spark in attack. In the 65th minute the home side mounted an attack up the left and the ball came inside to De Vincenti who turned well and shot only to be thwarted by a good one-handed save from Ter Stegen. It should be mentioned at this point that this was the first time in the entire game that the German keeper needed to use his hands.
Rafinha was somewhat foolishly and somewhat unluckily sent off after receiving a second yellow card for a foul on De Vincenti. With 20 minutes remaining there might have been a few nerves but Barça nearly took advantage of Apoel pushing forward when Alves crossed for Messi to lay the ball back for Suarez who powered a shot that Pardo did well to beat away.
Busquets replaced Suarez to bolster the midfield and when Guilherme received a second yellow for bringing down Pedro numerical parity was restored. Then in the 87th minute Alves found Xavi on the edge of the area, Xavi played it square for Mascherano who pushed a quick pass into the area, Messi was in an offside position so he stood still to let the ball run past, Pedro galloped in from the left to keep the ball in, crossing back for Messi who completed his hat-trick with his third right-foot finish of the night. Messi now has 74 goals to Raúl’s 71 while Cristiano Ronaldo who plays tomorrow is four behind on 70.
Apoel: Urko Pardo; Mario Sergio, Guilherme, Carlao, Antoniades; Tiago Gomes, Vinicius (Djebbour m74), Nuno Morais, Aloneftis (Efrem h/t); Manduca (De Vincenti m63), Sheridan
Barça: Ter Stegen 7; Alves 7, Pique 7.5, Bartra 7.5, Alba 8 (Adriano m62, 6.5); Rakitic 6.5 (Xavi m62, 7), Mascherano 7.5, Rafinha 6; Luis Suarez 8 (Busquets m77, 6.5), Messi 9, Pedro 6.5.
Goals: m27 Suarez 0-1, m38 Messi 0-2, m58 Messi 0-3, m87 Messi 0-4
Yellow cards: m31 Carlao, m33 Alves (misses game with PSG), m35 Rafinha, m53 Guilherme, m70 Rafinha (=red), m84 Guilherme (=red).