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When people say that it all starts and ends with Lionel Messi, they are usually referring to FC Barcelona’s overwhelming success over the past decade being inextricably linked to the performance of their number 10.
Wednesday was living proof. Messi — making his 500th Barça appearance — jolted the crowd out of its collective stupor following a lacklustre opening 20 minutes of play, then gave the stadium the scare of its life moments later, and closed out an electrifying 15-minute sequence with one of his signature goals.
Messi’s goal — which came after an own-goal by Betis — culminated the dramatic stretch and Luis Suárez rounded out the scoring with a second half double as FC Barcelona cruised to a 4–0 victory over Real Betis before 83,630 fans who came out on a crisp but comfortable evening at Camp Nou. Suárez's two goals give him 15 on the season, tops in La Liga.
Barça close 2015 with 180 goals, surpassing the previous team record in a calendar year that had been set by Real Madrid in 2014.
Prior to kick off the players offered up to those in attendance the five cups the team claimed in 2015.
The win keeps the Catalans atop the league table, level with Atlético Madrid on points but ahead on goal differential. It is Barça’s seventh straight home win versus Betis, which lost for just the third time this season on the road.
With the fans buried into the backs of their seats, Messi stirred them awake around midway through the first half when he lined up for a long free kick before sending it just wide to the right of Real Betis goalkeeper Antonio Adán.
Betis answered moments later at the other end with two shots of their own but FCB goalkeeper Claudio Bravo snagged Álvaro Cejudo’s blast from head on. Betis’ Dani Ceballos then stripped Barça's Dani Alves on the outlet and closed in on Bravo only to have the shot blocked.
Barça quickly marched back up field, where Neymar nodded from the penalty spot straight into the hands of a waiting Adán.
On the next play, Camp Nou stood still.
With Barça still pushing forward in the 27th minute, Sergio Busquets floated a lob into the area. With Messi and Adán converging at the same time, Adán dove to fist the ball away and his hip slammed hard into Messi's head, sending the Barça star straight down. First there was a huge gasp, and then silence, as a medical cart was immediately waved onto the field. Amidst the confusion, the referee pulled the yellow card from his pocket, showed it to Adán, and pointed to the spot, much to the chagrin of the Betis players, who felt Adàn had the right of way to make the save.
After a few dramatic moments, Messi, still dazed, made it to his feet and ceded the penalty kick to Neymar.
Neymar tiptoed up to the ball in an effort to catch Adán leaning, but the Betis keeper held his ground and Neymar unleashed a blast that clanged square off the cross bar. FCB’s Ivan Rakitic and Luis Suárez charged in for the rebound and were in position to make a play, but Betis defender Heiko Westermann slipped between the two and, in an attempt to clear, toed the ball in to his own goal to give Barça the 1–0 lead.
In the 34th minute Messi and Neymar combined on a perfectly timed give-and-go that ended with Messi burying a low shot past Adán to make it 2–0.
In that quarter-hour window, Messi had woken up the crowd while barely missing a long free kick, provoked a penalty that would lead to Barça’s first goal — and which scared the wits out of Barça suporters worldwide — and completed the circle with a goal of his own, Barça’s second.
In the 38th, Suárez almost had FCB’s third when he slipped past Didier Digard deep in Betis territory and, with only Adán to beat, fired wide into the side netting.
Nevertheless, Suárez did get FC Barcelona’s third in the 46th, slotting in from Adán’s right after collecting a well-placed pass from Busquets following a Betis turnover in their own end.
FC Barcelona had plenty more chances later in the second half. Messi had a goal-bound free kick tipped away by Adán at the last second, while Alves and Messi both took shots that rattled the woodwork.
Suárez then added Barça’s fourth on a give-and-go with Neymar six minutes from time.
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