BARCELONA (AFP) – Lionel Messi moved into second place on the all-time list of Champions League goalscorers with his 27th career hat-trick as Barcelona beat Ajax 4-0 at the Nou Camp on Wednesday.
The four-time World Player of the Year now has 62 Champions League goals to his name as Barca cruised to victory in the first ever competitive meeting between the two sides.
Messi opened the scoring on 22 minutes with a sensational free-kick and made the game safe 10 minutes after half-time with a typically cool left-footed finish.
Gerard Pique added a third when he headed Neymar’s cross past the stranded Kenneth Vermeer before Messi rounded off the scoring 15 minutes from time.
“In the first-half we found it a bit difficult because they played well, but in the second we moved the ball much better and controlled the game,” Messi told Canal Plus.
“In general I think we played a very good game. The more variety we have the better. There are games where we need to manage the ball, control the game, and others which are more difficult where we will need to do a bit more.”
Messi also took time to lend his support to coach Gerardo Martino, who will fly back to Argentina after the game to attend his father’s funeral.
“It was a special game. It is a shame what has happened and he is suffering, but we are all with him in this moment.”
Despite causing little threat of their own, Ajax had managed to limit Barca fairly well in the opening 20 minutes with a Neymar shot that was easily held by Vermeer the hosts’ only attempt on goal.
However, their good work was undone when Lerin Duarte unnecessarily dived in on Messi on the edge of the area and the Argentine picked himself up to fire the resulting free-kick in off the inside of the post.
Ajax then did manage to carve out a decent opening when Bojan Krkic — who was allowed to feature despite being on-loan from Barca — found Ricardo Van Rhijn with a low cross in behind Adriano, and his diving header forced Victor Valdes into a smart stop low to his right.
Valdes was called into action again six minutes later to keep out Duarte’s effort from the edge of the box.
However, Barca could also have extended their advantage before the interval as Messi uncharacteristically lacked precision in his finish when faced with just Vermeer to beat in first-half stoppage time, the goalkeeper making a comfortable save.
Van Rhijn made a vital intervention at the start of the second-half to prevent Neymar slotting home at the back post.
But it was only a matter of time before the Ajax goal was breached again, and unsurprisingly it was Messi as he received Sergio Busquets’s pass, cut inside and slotted past the helpless Vermeer.
The Argentine nearly had his hat-trick in bizarre circumstances seconds later as he prodded the ball towards goal with his knee from Neymar’s cross, only for it to dribble inches wide.
Barca were in cruise control by this stage and they did eventually get their third of the evening when Vermeer got nowhere near Neymar’s in-swinging cross and Pique had the simple task of heading into an unguarded net.
Messi then sealed his hat-trick with another unerring finish that arrowed into Vermeer’s bottom left-hand corner from the edge of the area.
And the visitors were even denied a consolation when Valdes saved Kolbeinn Sigthorsson’s penalty 13 minutes from time after Javier Mascherano had upended Thurani Serero.