Messi hits hat-trick as Barca rout Ajax 4-0
BARCELONA — Lionel Messi gave yet another sparkling Champions League recital when he netted a hat-trick as Barcelona began their European campaign with a crushing 4-0 home win over Ajax Amsterdam in Group H yesterday (Sept 18).
The Argentine World Player of the Year, who has made brilliance seem routine with an incredible haul of goals in recent seasons, conjured another memorable night at the Nou Camp for his adoring fans by becoming the first player to score four trebles in Europe’s elite club competition.
At the age of just 26, his overall goals tally is now 62 in 80 appearances, nine short of former Real Madrid forward and record marksman Raul.
Messi opened the scoring in the 22nd minute with a superb curling free kick, struck with a trademark dash in from the right and clinical finish 10 minutes into the second half and buried a low shot into the corner from the edge of the area 15 minutes from time.
His breathtaking performance brought back memories of his five-goal haul against Bayer Leverkusen in the 2010-2011 Champions League, when he became the only man to score five in one match, and the four goals he put past Arsenal in 2010.
“It was important to start with a win, especially playing at home,” Messi said in an interview with Spanish television broadcaster Canal Plus.
“We know how difficult these Champions League groups always are,” he added.
“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 whipped centre in the 69th minute and goalkeeper Victor Valdes continued his fine run of form by saving Kolbeinn Sigthorsson’s 77th-minute penalty, one of a host of good saves.
It was a winning Champions League start for Barca’s new coach Gerardo Martino but Messi apart his side generally struggled to reproduce the scintillating play that has brought them two European crowns in the past five seasons.