AMSTERDAM (AFP) – Lionel Messi became the joint top goalscorer in Champions League history with both goals in Barcelona’s 2-0 win at Ajax which also secured their place in the last 16 on Wednesday.
Messi moved level with Real Madrid legend Raul on 71 goals in the competition as he headed home the opener nine minutes before half-time before prodding in from Pedro Rodriguez’s cross 15 minutes from time to make the game safe just moments after the hosts had been reduced to 10 men.
However, it was another frustrating evening for Luis Suarez on his return to the side where he made his name in Europe as he passed up a huge chance to score his first Barca goal early in the second-half.
Barcelona still trail Paris Saint-Germain by a point at the top of Group F after the French champions also sealed their place in the knockout phase with a 1-0 win at home to APOEL Nicosia.
“I am happy for Leo because of the work he does for the team. He is the number one, the best,” said Barca midfielder Xavi Hernandez.
Barca boss Luis Enrique, meanwhile, was relieved to return to winning ways after two consecutive defeats.
“I am satisfied, although there were phases of the game we could have been better,
“The attitude of the team was marvellous against an opponent that had everything to play for.” However, Ajax coach Frank de Boer believed his side deserved more than a defeat which leaves them fighting with APOEL for Europa League football after Christmas.
“I think we deserved to at least score a goal,” said the former Barcelona defender.
“Even in the second-half, although Barca started better, we had our chances and hit the post. After the red card the game was finished.”
Messi took advantage of a rare off night in front of goal by Cristiano Ronaldo against Liverpool on Tuesday to leapfrog the Portuguese, who now lies one behind the Argentine on 70 Champions League goals.
However, Barca had it far from all their own way in the Dutch capital as after Neymar had an early goal rightly ruled out for the visitors, it was Ajax who enjoyed the better of the opening 45 minutes.Lucas Andersen fired just wide from the edge of the area before Marc-Andre ter Stegen made a fine low save to deny Davy Klaassen rounding of a sumptuous move with a volleyed finish.
It took Barca over half an hour to wake from their slumber, but their star-studded front three began to create problems when Suarez’s driven effort was deflected behind for a corner.
Messi then teed up Jordi Alba with a lovely through ball, but Ajax ‘keeper Jasper Cillessen scurried from his line to block the Spanish international full-back’s effort.
The opening goal arrived nine minutes before half-time and was harsh on Cillessen who originally made a great save high to his right to keep out a Messi free-kick. However, Barca kept the ball alive and from Marc Bartra’s cross Messi somehow outjumped his marker to nod the ball home despite Ricardo van Rhijn’s desperate attempts to clear off the line.
Barca had more control of the game after the break and should have wrapped up the three points when Messi released Suarez clean through on goal, but Cillessen stood up to block his unconvincing finish and Messi curled the rebound into the side-netting.