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Barca master BATE

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MINSK, Belarus, September 29 – Barcelona kick-started the defence of their Champions League crown by roundly thumping BATE Borisov here as Lionel Messi scored twice in a 5-0 win to further cement his place in the history of the Catalan club.

Messi scored either side of half-time on a rainy evening to take his overall tally for the club to 194 goals and move level with Hungary legend Ladislao Kubala in second place in Barca’s all-time list of leading scorers.

Only Cesar Rodriguez — who scored 235 goals in the post-Civil War era — is still ahead of Messi, but the little Argentine seems certain to eclipse even him in the not-too-distant future.

Neither Messi nor his teammates needed to be at their very best here, though, as Pep Guardiola’s side utterly outclassed the Belarus league leaders at the Dinamo Stadium to record their first win in Group H following their frustrating draw with Milan a fortnight ago.

Barca had warmed up for this match by scoring 15 goals in their last three league games, but BATE did not help themselves in the first-half as their calamitous defending gifted the visitors the advantage.

The Spanish champions took the lead on 19 minutes when a Dani Alves cross from the right was not dealt with by Egor Filipenko and Alyaksandr Volodko turned the ball into his own net at the back post under pressure from Messi.

Three minutes later and it was 2-0 when Pedro stole a march on a rather static Maksim Bordachev to head home a left-wing David Villa cross.

BATE had set their stall out to defend in numbers, with every man back behind the ball except lone striker Mateja Kezman.

Serbian international Kezman’s task was a thankless one, and the former PSV Eindhoven, Atletico Madrid, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain player cut an isolated figure up front as his teammates tried unsuccessfully to soak up the pressure and hit on the break.

BATE are 11 points clear at the top of their domestic league and on course to retain their title, but the gulf in class between the best in Belarus and the best in Europe was all too stark.

Villa saw two efforts well saved by Alyaksandr Gutor before the BATE goalkeeper gifted a third goal to Messi.

Pedro’s cross from the right should have been a routine catch, but he contrived to drop the ball right on to the head of Messi, who will probably never score an easier goal in the Champions League.

It was only Messi’s second headed goal in the Champions League, with his first coming against Manchester United in the 2009 final in Rome.

The pattern of the game remained much the same after the restart, and Messi got the goal that brought him level with Kubala on 55 minutes, exchanging passes with Alves before beating Gutor with an unstoppable shot from just inside the area.

It was his 14th goal of this season alone, and that looked to be that until Villa added his name to the scoresheet, making it 5-0 in the last minute.

The former Valencia man had been penalised for offside, but BATE made a complete mess of the resulting free-kick, gifting possession straight back to Villa, who finished past a drenched and thoroughly depressed Gutor.

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