Messi magic returns to put Barca through

Wed Nov 6, 2013 5:59pm EST
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BARCELONA (Reuters) - The familiar sound of his name echoing around the Nou Camp signaled the end of a mini goal drought as Lionel Messi scored twice in a 3-1 win over AC Milan that put Barcelona through to the Champions League last 16 on Wednesday.

Alarm bells had been ringing from the Catalan capital to the World Player of the Year's native Argentina and beyond after Messi failed to score in four consecutive La Liga outings, a barren run by his sky-high standards.

He grabbed his first with an emphatic strike from the penalty spot on the half hour, prompting the Barca fans inside the giant arena to begin the chants of "Messi, Messi, Messi" that have marked so many of his home appearances in Europe's elite club competition.

An unmarked Sergio Busquets nodded in Xavi's free kick 10 minutes later but Gerard Pique turned the ball into his own net moments before the break to make it 2-1 and give Milan hope.

The Italian side looked more threatening after Mario Balotelli replaced Robinho at halftime before Messi made a trademark dash between the defenders and dinked the ball over goalkeeper Christian Abbiati for his second seven minutes from the end.

It was the 26-year-old's sixth goal in three games in Europe this season and his 65th in 82 Champions League appearances and firmly put to bed concern he might have lost his cutting edge after a couple of brief injury absences.

Barca's comfortable victory lifted the Group H leaders to 10 points from four matches and put them through to the knockout round with two matches to spare.

Milan, struggling in both domestic and continental competition, have five points in second and Ajax are third on four after they won 1-0 at home to Celtic in Amsterdam.

"Mission accomplished," Busquets said in an interview with Spanish television broadcaster Canal Plus.   Continued...

Barcelona's Lionel Messi (L) is congratulated by team mates Xavi (C) and Dani Alves after scoring his second goal against AC Milan during their Champions League soccer match at Nou Camp stadium in Barcelona November 6, 2013. REUTERS/Gustau Nacarino