Friday, December 4, 2020
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UEFA Champions League: Lionel Messi scores in 700th match as Barcelona ease into last-16

Messi scores
Barcelona’s Argentine forward Lionel Messi shoots following a foul during the UEFA Champions League Group F football match against Borussia Dortmund in Barcelona, on Nov 27, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

BARCELONA, November 28: Lionel Messi scored in his 700th match for Barcelona and also set up goals for Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann as the Catalans beat Borussia Dortmund 3-1 on Wednesday to seal a spot in the Champions League knockout stages as Group F winners.
Messi set up Suarez to put Barca ahead at a packed Camp Nou in the 29th minute before the Uruguayan returned the compliment for the Argentine to establish another Champions League record on his landmark night four minutes later.
Messi’s left-foot strike meant he had scored against a 34th different team in the Champions League, surpassing the mark that he had shared with Cristiano Ronaldo and Raul.
Substitute Griezmann then finished off a pass from Messi to further stretch Barca’s lead in the 67th minute, a much-needed goal for the Frenchman’s confidence after failing to score in his previous six appearances for the club.
Griezmann had been left out of the starting line-up but came on midway through the first half when his injury-prone compatriot Ousmane Dembele was forced off with a third muscle problem of the campaign.
Dortmund’s England forward Jadon Sancho also began the game on the bench but made an impact when introduced after halftime, firing in an impressive consolation strike for the Germans in the 77th minute after pouncing on a loose ball inside the area.
The 19-year-old then forced Barca keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen to turn a powerful shot on to the crossbar in a strong finish from the German side, whose coach Lucien Favre is under pressure due to the team’s poor domestic results.
But it did not tarnish what was a therapeutic win for Barca, who had come in for scathing criticism for their recent poor displays against Leganes, Levante and Slavia Prague, even though they are top of La Liga and their Champions League group.
Ernesto Valverde’s side lead the standings with 11 points from five games, Inter Milan are second on seven while Dortmund are third, also on seven, with Slavia bottom with two.
“Our first objective was to qualify as group winners but we also wanted to show a real improvement in our play,” said goalscorer Suarez.
“We relaxed a bit in the second half and hung on to our lead but we should still leave here feeling very happy.”
Chelsea made to wait for last-16 spot after thrilling draw in Valencia
Daniel Wass’s late equaliser denied Chelsea a place in the last 16 of the Champions League as a profligate Valencia fought back for a 2-2 draw that maintains both sides’ chances of reaching the knockout stages.
A wide open game swung the visitors’ way after Carles Soler’s opener for Valencia as Mateo Kovacic and Christian Pulisic put Chelsea in pole position to avenge their 1-0 defeat on home soil to the Spaniards on matchday one.
However, after Kepa Arrizabalaga had saved Dani Parejo’s penalty, Wass’s cross flummoxed the Spanish international to give Valencia a lifeline.
Both sides are tied on eight points in second place in Group H, two points behind Ajax, who beat Lille 2-0.
Victory at home to Lille in two weeks’ time will ensure Frank Lampard’s men make the last 16 and they were thankful to five huge misses from the hosts to escape with a point on a night that could also prove costly as top-scorer Tammy Abraham was stretchered off at half-time.
“We nearly won it, nearly lost it. It was end-to-end, not that we wanted it to be,” said Lampard. “It keeps it in our hands and we have to be happy with that.
“They were arriving in our box too much. Credit to the players for their work-rate and hanging on in there, but sometimes you have to be more secure than that.”
Maxi Gomez was the principal villain for Valencia as the Uruguayan twice failed to find the net with the goal at his mercy in the first half.
“In a very open game in which we’ve both had chances, we had by far the clearest chances, on top of the penalty,” said Valencia coach Albert Celades. “The key was that we didn’t take them.”
When Valencia did finally break the deadlock there was a hint of fortune in the finish as the ball ricocheted off Soler’s legs, but had enough power to beat Kepa. (Agencies/ AFP)

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