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Barca thrash Panathinaikos

BARCELONA, September 15- Barcelona put their weekend humiliation at the hands of Hercules behind them with two-goal Lionel Messi inspiring a 5-1 Champions League rout of Panathinaikos on Tuesday in their Group D opener.
Barcelona fell behind to a Sidney Govou goal on 20 minutes but responded with three goals in 24 minutes with Argentine Messi scoring twice, in the 21st and 45th minutes, and Spanish star David Villa netting his first Champions League goal for Barcelona.

Pedro Rodriguez and Brazilian Dani Alves scored late goals to complete the rout while Messi came agonisingly close to a hat-trick missing a penalty and hitting both posts in the second half.

It was a big win from the 2009 champions as they gave the perfect reply to Saturday’s painful 2-0 league defeat to promoted Hercules at Camp Nou.

The double from Messi means he has 27 Champions League goals and is the club’s all-time leading scorer in the competition at the age of 23.

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola made five changes to the team that crashed to the Hercules with Spanish World Cup winning quartet Xavi, Sergi Busquets, Pedro and Carles Puyol coming in.

Barcelona started on the front foot and had two good chances in the first five minutes.

Messi saw a header saved in the second minute and then set up the next move sliding a brilliant pass to Andres Iniesta who laid the ball off for Xavi metres from goal.

Xavi seemed certain to score but his shot with the outside of his right foot was too close to goalkeeper Alexandros Tzorvas who parried well.

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The Greek visitors were hanging on but somehow conjured up a goal with their first attack of the match on 20 minutes.

A neat back heel flick from Djibril Cisse released fellow Frenchman Govou who fired past Victor Valdes to stun the home fans who feared another home defeat.

However, Messi allayed those worries 60 seconds later with a smart equaliser as Panathinaikos went to sleep.

Xavi floated a pass behind the Greeks and the unmarked Messi calmly stroked into the corner.

Villa, a 40 million euro capture from Valencia, then put Barca in front on 33 minutes with Busquets flicking on Xavi’s corner and Villa was on hand to smash home his first European goal for Barcelona.

Messi hit the crossbar a minute before the interval and then scored a fantastic goal on the stroke of half-time.

On the run the Argentine played a one-two with Xavi then another one-two with Pedro before curling a shot into the corner to wow the home fans.

Messi was brought down in the box 10 minutes into the second half and picked himself up to take the spot-kick.

The Argentine sensed a hat-trick but his tame penalty was saved by Tzorvas.

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Panathinaikos introduced Barcelona old boy Luis Garcia, who came through the youth system before a big move to Liverpool in 2004, in the final 20 minutes but there was no chance of a comeback.

On 77 minutes Messi hit both posts with a clever shot from an acute angle and the ball came out to Pedro for an easy tap-in.

Alves scored the fifth in stoppage time with a header to cap off a fine night for the hosts.

Barcelona’s next Champions League match is a trip to Russia to face Rubin Kazan on September 29, but the league is now the priority and a tricky trip to league leaders Atletico Madrid awaits on Sunday.

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