Champions League round-up: Messi is magic in Milan to put Barça on top


Saul Brookfield
Thursday 24 November 2011 01:00
Lionel Messi's perfect pass set up Xavi for Barcelona's winner
Lionel Messi's perfect pass set up Xavi for Barcelona's winner

Xavi got Barcelona's winner as they triumphed 3-2 over Milan in a pulsating game at San Siro last night which ensured the Champions League holders top their group.

A typical piece of Lionel Messi artistry produced Barça's winner in the 63rd minute, his exquisite pass cutting out four Milan defenders for Xavi to score from 10 yards. Earlier, the visitors had taken the lead when Seydou Keita's low cross was turned into his own goal by Mark van Bommel, playing against his old club.

However, it was another former Barcelona player, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who grabbed Milan's equaliser in the 20th minute when Clarence Seedorf found some space down the left and played in the Swedish striker to finish with a curling shot from 12 yards.

Controversy shrouded Barcelona's second 11 minutes later. Xavi tumbled in the penalty area in pursuit of Cesc Fabregas's delightful through-ball and, though there seemed to be little contact with his marker Alberto Aquilani, Wolfgang Stark pointed to the spot.

The German referee's next action was to book Messi for halting his run-up in beating Christian Abbiati, and ordering a re-take. The result was the same with the re-taken kick, Messi beating Abbiati, this time low down to his left.

While Manchester City, the world's richest club, look unlikely to reach the knockout stages, tiny Apoel Nicosia have made it with a game to spare after drawing 0-0 at Zenit St Petersburg.

The Cypriot champions become the first side from their country to reach the last 16 but had to ride their luck yesterday in a second half that saw 10 additional minutes played because of interruptions to the game caused by smoke from the Zenit fans' flares.

Zenit, missing injured striker Alexander Kerzhakov, who is their leading scorer in the Russian league this season, wasted numerous chances, Roman Shirokov and Alexander Bukharov being the biggest culprits.

"This is a fantastic result for our team," said Apoel's Serbian coach, Ivan Jovanovic. "Of course, we're a small team compared to many European giants but we have a big heart. We have good players who try hard every single game and they also have a great desire to achieve something really important."

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