Messi matches Ronaldo's hat-trick

Barca's Lionel Messi follows Cristiano's lead by scoring a Champions League hat-trick in opening match of group stages.

    Messi matches Ronaldo's hat-trick
    Closing on Champions League record: Messi ensured Barca made superb start to Champions League campaign [GETTY]

    Lionel Messi gave yet another sparkling Champions League recital when he netted a hat-trick for Barcelona in a crushing 4-0 win at home to Ajax Amsterdam in their Group H opener on Wednesday.

    The Argentine World Player of the Year lit up the Nou Camp with a brilliant curling free kick in the 22nd minute, a trademark dash in from the right and clinical finish 10 minutes into the second half and a low shot into the corner from the edge of the area 15 minutes from time.

    He is the first player to score four trebles in Europe's elite club competition and took his overall goals tally to 62 in 80 appearances, nine short of record scorer Raul of Real Madrid.

    "It was important to start with a win, especially playing at home," Messi said in an interview with Spanish television broadcaster Canal Plus.

    Champions League results

    Wednesday 18 September

     AC Milan 2-0 Celtic 
     Atl Madrid 3- Zenit St P
     Aust. Vienna 0-1 Porto
     Barcelona 4-0 Ajax
     Chelsea 1-2 FC Basel
     Schalke 3-0 S Bucharest
     Marseille 1-2 Arsenal
     Napoli 2-1 Bor Dortmund 

    "We know how difficult these Champions League groups always are, he said.

    "In the second half we had the ball and controlled the match. We found it tough to pressure them initially because they were moving the ball well out from the back. But I think in general it was a great performance."

    Defender Gerard Pique had netted Barca's third with a header from Neymar's centre in the 69th minute and goalkeeper Victor Valdes continued his fine run of form by saving Kolbeinn Sigthorsson's 77th-minute penalty.

    It was a winning Champions League start for Barca's new coach Gerardo Martino but his side generally struggled to reproduce the scintillating play that has brought them two European crowns in the past five seasons.

    However, with Messi on fire and Barca hosting an Ajax side lacking in real quality the outcome of the match was never in doubt.

    Surprisingly, Wednesday's match was the first official meeting between the two continental heavyweights, who have each won four European titles.

    A Johan Cruyff-inspired Ajax claimed three straight triumphs between 1971 and 1973 and another in 1995 in a side including current coach Frank de Boer, who later had a four-year stint at Barca.

    Barca won their first European crown under coach Cruyff in 1992 and three more in 2006, 2009 and 2011.

    Woe for Mourinho 

    Chelsea made a losing start to the Champions League for the first time as Basel came from behind to win 2-1 in Group and deepen Jose Mourinho's difficulties during his Stamford Bridge homecoming.

    Boos rang out at the final whistle after Marco Streller clinched Basel's memorable victory in the 82nd minute by flicking a header past goalkeeper Petr Cech.

    Although Oscar lit up a drab start by curling Chelsea in front before half time, the 2012 European Cup winners and reigning Europa League champions missed a succession of chances to extend their lead after the break.

    And Mohamed Salah began the Swiss side's comeback in the 71st with an equaliser as Chelsea's worst start to a season in the decade under Roman Abramovich's ownership was prolonged.

    Arsenal recovered from an unimpressive first half to defeat Olympique Marseille 2-1 in a clinical opening to their Champions League campaign.

    Theo Walcott volleyed home in the 65th minute after benefiting from Jeremy Morel's defensive blunder before Aaron Ramsey put the result beyond doubt seven minutes from time with a deflected low shot.

    Arsene Wenger's side, who looked listless in the first half, are level in Group F with Napoli, who beat last season's runners-up Borussia Dortmund 2-1.

    Italian side AC Milan, Atletico Madrid, FC Porto and FC Schalke also won the first games of their groups. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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