The players celebrate one of the goals in Amsterdam / PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB

FC Barcelona overcame a plucky Ajax at the Amsterdam Arena to claim three points that ensure they will be joining PSG in the second round of the Champions League. Leo Messi was the man of the moment, scoring both goals to equal Raúl’s all-time record of 71 goals in the competition.

It was a lively game from start to finish, but there was a dearth of real chances for either side in the first half hour. The best chances all fell to Ajax, who actually out-possessed the Catalans in the first 45 minutes, with Lucas Andersen, Schöne and Klaassen all coming close, and Jordi Alba shining above everyone else with a series of last-ditch tackles.

Messi breaks deadlock


But after 36 minutes, it was Barça who opened the scoring. Ajax keeper Cillessen left his goal unattended as he ran to collect a loose ball, but Marc Batra got there first and skilfully laid up Leo Messi, who headed home.

There had been moments when Ajax had managed to look the better side, but that changed after the break. Barça were in clear command and the best of many chances fell to Luis Suárez when he found himself one-on-one with the keeper but was thwarted by Cillessen.

Barça received a further boost when the card-happy referee booked Veltman for the second time to leave Ajax down to ten men for the last twenty minutes.

Record leveller


And six minutes later, Messi as good as decided the match with his second goal of the night. He started the move with a solo run, laid the ball off to substitute Pedro, who promptly laid it back for the Argentinian to score. And this was no ordinary goal. It was his 71st in the Champions League, thus equalling Raúl González’s all-time record.

With four minutes to go, Messi came close to completing his hat-trick and breaking the record, but he was denied by some fine defending from Moisander.

It all ended 2-0 to Barça, and coupled with PSG’s 1-0 win against Apoel, that means FCB and the French side are safely into the last sixteen and will now battle it out for the all-important top spot in the group.