Lionel Messi struck a second-straight hat-trick to move clear as the Champions League’s all-time leading scorer and help Barcelona to a 4-0 win over APOEL in Nicosia. Heading into the clash in Cyprus, Messi sat level with Real Madrid legend Raul on 71 goals following his two strikes against Ajax that booked Barcelona’s place in the last 16 three weeks ago.
But he now stands alone and some way in front after he helped Barcelona build on a lead given to them by Luis Suarez’s first goal for the Catalan club. The win sets up a final-run showdown for top spot in Group F at the Nou Camp in two weeks’ time, with Luis Enrique’s team needing to beat Paris Saint-Germain to avoid a potentially trickier tie in the last 16.
It was in Paris that Barcelona dropped their only points of the Champions League to date. Since that match in September, their progress has been serene, in no small part thanks to the man who struck another treble against Sevilla at the weekend to become the all-time leading scorer in the Spanish league. The records keep coming for the uniquely gifted Argentine.
Starting from the right flank, with Suarez operating through the middle, Messi was playing provider early on. Having got clear out wide, he laid the ball back for Suarez, but the former Liverpool man’s shot was straight at APOEL goalkeeper Urko Pardo. In the 29th minute his accuracy was more in line with the form that saw him take a share of the European Golden Boot last season. Suarez turned brilliantly at the top corner of the box to leave a defender befuddled and allow him to coolly place a side-footed shot into the net.
Suarez breaking his duck in his sixth appearance in a Barcelona shirt looked set to take the headlines, but Messi was once again to command all the attention. He was involved in both the buildup and the culmination to Barcelona’s second goal seven minutes before halftime, playing a one-two with Ivan Rakitic before instinctively sticking out his right leg to divert a low, tame shot from Rafinha past Pardo.
Just before the hour mark, he made it 3-0. Again it was scored with Messi’s right foot, this time with a brilliant feathered effort past Pardo when his options look limited in a sandwich between goalkeeper and defender. Incredibly the man who has produced so many spectacular moments through the years with his left foot, made it an all right-footed hat-trick. Again he showed his awareness of the situation, allowing a ball across the box to run past him when he was in an offside position before he stepped into position to turn Pedro’s cutback into the net.
A second yellow for Rafinha for a clumsy tackle from behind and an equally avoidable booking for Dani Alves, which means he will also miss the showdown in the French capital, were the only disappointments for Barcelona on yet another special night for their star man.