Messi double sees Barcelona into last 16
Messi Double Sees Barcelona into Last 16, Barcelona sealed their place in the Champions League last 16 with two games to spare as Lionel Messi scored...
Barcelona sealed their place in the Champions League last 16 with two games to spare as Lionel Messi scored twice in their 3-1 win over AC Milan at the Camp Nou on Wednesday.
Messi ended his three-game run without a goal as he smashed home the opener from the penalty spot after Neymar had been felled by Ignazio Abate.
Sergio Busquets then headed home a second, but Milan were handed a lifeline just before half-time when Gerard Pique turned Kaka's cross into his own net.
However, Messi made the game safe seven minutes from the end when he dinked the ball home from Cesc Fabregas' pass.
Defeat still leaves Milan in second place in Group H, a point ahead of Ajax and two clear of Celtic after the Dutch champions beat the Scottish side 1-0 in the night's other match.
"We knew the Messi thing was just a question of games because he is incomparable and in front of goal he is always in form. We hope he now doesn't stop scoring," Busquets told Canal Plus.
"We have achieved our objective. I think we played very well in the first-half, it was just a shame to concede the own goal.
"We played quite a complete match, although we had a few problems in the second-half. Now we are in a good position."
An eighth meeting between the sides in just the past three seasons meant there was a more subdued atmosphere than would normally be expected for a meeting between two of Europe's heavyweights.
However, Barca boss Gerardo Martino showed how intent he was on sewing up qualification as he named his strongest available side with the fit-again Adriano restored at left-back.
Milan boss Massimiliano Allegri, meanwhile, sprang a surprise by leaving Mario Balotelli on the bench with the former Real Madrid duo of Robinho and Kaka starting instead in attack.
Both Brazilians were largely isolated in the first half though as Barcelona controlled proceedings.
Xavi Hernandez pulled an early free-kick just wide before Neymar ought to have scored when played in by Messi, but he took a heavy touch and allowed Christian Abbiati to smother.
Milan's defensive resistence was finally undone on the half-hour mark by a moment of madness from Abate as he pulled back Neymar inside the area and Messi converted from the spot for his fifth Champions League goal of the campaign.
Riccardo Montolivo then had Milan's first effort on goal 10 minutes before the break with an angled drive that flew just past.
Barca went on to double their advantage six minutes before half-time though when Xavi's free-kick was easily headed home by the unmarked Busquets.
Adriano forced Abbiati into a finger-tip save moments later as Barca threatened to run riot, but incredibly Milan got back in the game with the last kick of the half when Pique turned Kaka's cut-back into his own net.
Allegri then introduced Balotelli for the ineffective Robinho at the interval and the Italian international instantly brought a new dimension to the Milan attack with a fierce low drive that Victor Valdes did well to handle.
Milan came close again on 63 minutes as a wonderful run from Balotelli took him past two Barca defenders and his cross was swept just wide from Kaka.
Neymar so nearly then produced one of the goals of the season as he waltzed past four Milan players only to skew his shot just wide, and seconds later Abbiati produced an incredible low stop to turn Alexis Sanchez's effort from point-blank range behind as Barca upped the pace.
And Messi did finally seal the three points with a cool finish into the roof of the net after a wonderful one-two with Fabregas.
Hildebrand blunder leaves Chelsea in command
Chelsea shook an unexpected loss to Newcastle United out of their system by overcoming Schalke 3-0 on Wednesday to close on a place in the Champions League knockout phase.
The London club had seen a six-game winning run ended at St James' Park on Saturday, but they got back on track by reasserting their control of Champions League Group E with their 100th victory in UEFA competition.
Schalke goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand gifted Samuel Eto'o the opening goal with a dreadful error and the Chelsea striker claimed a second shortly after half-time before substitute Demba Ba added a late third.
It was a repeat of the scoreline from when the sides met in Gelsenkirchen two weeks ago and it left Jose Mourinho's side three points clear of Schalke at the top of the group with two matches to come.
Chelsea can now qualify for the last 16 with a draw in their next match at Basel, whose 1-1 draw at home to Steaua Bucharest in the other group game took some of the sting out of defeat for Jens Keller's Schalke.
Mourinho had threatened to make "11 changes" after the 2-0 loss at Newcastle; in the end he restricted himself to six, with Gary Cahill, Cesar Azpilicueta, John Mikel Obi, Willian, Andre Schurrle and Eto'o coming in.
Schalke's squad has been ravaged by injury this season, but it was Chelsea who looked like a team of strangers in the opening stages as the Germans went close on three occasions. Julian Draxler clipped a shot narrowly wide of the left-hand post from the edge of the box, with Adam Szalai and Christian Fuchs also threatening from distance.
Chelsea settled, however, and only a sinew-straining save from Hildebrand prevented Schurrle from breaking the deadlock with a venomous, dipping free-kick. Sadly for the German goalkeeper, his next contribution would prove far more memorable, and for all the wrong reasons.
The 34-year-old inexplicably took an age lining up a long kick, allowing Eto'o to ghost in from wide on the Chelsea left and block the ball the moment it left his foot, sending it rolling into the net.
It was Eto'o's first goal in the competition for Chelsea and he tested Hildebrand again before half-time with a volley that skidded off the turf. There was an early warning for Chelsea in the second half, Petr Cech brilliantly palming a left-foot shot from Draxler around his right-hand post, but in the 54th minute the hosts extended their lead.
If Eto'o's first goal was fortuitous, his second was superb, with Willian stealing past Fuchs and squaring the ball to the Cameroonian, who finished with aplomb. Hildebrand did his best to shrug off the taunts from the Chelsea fans behind his goal by saving from Schurrle, but Ba had the final say with an adroit left-foot volley from fellow substitute Frank Lampard's pass.
Chelsea are now assured of a place in the Europa League, the competition they won last season after a group-phase exit in the Champions League, but the chances of them having to defend their title seem remote.