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Messi fires for Barca
Lionel Messi struck two hugely contrasting goals as Barcelona climbed to the top of Group D after squeezing past erstwhile leaders FC Copenhagen at the Nou Camp.

Messi broke the deadlock with a thunderous effort in the 19th minute to cap a fine opening from Barca, but the hosts struggled to finish off their in-form opponents and survived a number of second-half scares before the Argentinian ace tapped home from close range in stoppage time to secure the points.

The victory lifts Barca onto seven points, one above Copenhagen and five clear of third-placed Rubin Kazan.

Barca suffered a setback earlier in the day when goalkeeper Victor Valdes was ruled out through injury while influential playmaker Xavi, who has been nursing an Achilles tendon problem, started the game on the bench.

However, neither of those absentees looked like affecting Barca as they were quickly in control against an Copenhagen side who, as well as winning both of their opening Group D matches, are enjoying a record-breaking start to their domestic campaign and boast a massive 12-point lead at the summit after only 12 rounds.

Barca came within inches of taking a fourth-minute lead when David Villa`s measured shot came back off the crossbar, and soon after that Maxwell saw a shot saved by the legs of visiting goalkeeper Johan Wiland.

Wiland then saved a header from Messi as Barca continued to push forward.

Messi was not to be denied two minutes after that, though, as he left Wiland with no chance to save as Barca took a deserved lead.

Spanish World Cup winners Gerard Pique and Andres Iniesta combined before feeding the ball into Messi 25 yards out from goal, and the reigning FIFA World Player of the Year took one touch before unleashing an unstoppable shot into the top corner of the net.

Villa drew another save from Wiland with a well-struck effort in the 32nd minute as Barca, who beat Panathinaikos 5-1 in their previous home match in the Champions League before drawing 1-1 away to Rubin Kazan, looked to increase their advantage before the break.

However, Pep Guardiola`s side struggled to get that second goal to settle them down, and FC Copenhagen started to make life increasingly uncomfortable for them in the second half.

The closest Stale Solbakken's men would come was in the 66th minute when Dame Ndoye`s brilliant dipping effort from the edge of the box came back off the bar with Valdes` replacement Jose Pinto beaten.

The rebound then looked set to be headed in by Cesar Santin but the striker, who scored a hat-trick in Saturday`s 5-0 league mauling of Odense BK, contrived to nod wide with an open goal at his mercy.

That was a huge let-off for Barca, but there were still some more nervy moments to come for the Catalan giants.

After Villa had been thwarted at point-blank range by Wiland, Barca needed a last-ditch tackle from Dani Alves to deny Cristian Bolanos before FC Copenhagen captain William Kvist almost scored with an audacious lob from inside the centre-circle, Pinto racing back to palm it away.

That was in the 87th minute and Barca fans must have been bracing themselves for a tense final few minutes.

However, it was the 2009 European champions who finished the stronger, Alves seeing a low shot come back off the far post before Messi sealed the win when Eric Abidal`s mis-hit cross landed kindly for him six yards out and he rolled in his 29th Champions League goal.

# Guardiola praises Mascherano

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola praised Javier Mascherano after the Argentina midfielder started and finished on the winning side for the first time since joining the Catalan club from Liverpool in the summer.

Mascherano came on as a late substitute for the injured Xavi as Barca beat Valencia 2-1 at the Nou Camp on Saturday night, but the Argentina captain had failed to win any of the games he had started prior to Wednesday night's 2-0 victory at home to FC Copenhagen in the Champions League.

But with Xavi deemed unfit to start tonight, Mascherano was handed another opportunity alongside fellow holding midfielder Sergio Busquets and completed the full 90 minutes in the 2-0 win. And although the victory had more to do with his Argentina team-mate Lionel Messi, who scored both goals on the night, Guardiola was happy with his most recent signing.

"I'm very satisfied with him. He played well and he is happy. He is a competitive player with a lot of quality,'' he said after the match. "He deserves his opportunity and he is going to be an important player for us.''

Barca dominated for the most part, as they usually do at the Nou Camp, but are finding it difficult to convert their chances at the moment and suffered a couple of scares before Messi's late clincher. Nevertheless, Guardiola believes an improvement in front of goal is imminent.

"We just need to put the ball in,'' he said. "Had we got the second goal (earlier), we would have been much more relaxed. But I'm not worried. We can always play better, but overall I am very happy with the win and delighted with my players.''

The victory sees Barca move to the top of Group D after three games, with seven points from a possible nine - one more than second-placed Copenhagen.

Meanwhile, Copenhagen coach Stale Solbakken was proud his side was able to stay in touch with Barcelona right up until Messi's late second.

"We came up against the best team in the world and we had them right there - my players can be very proud of themselves,'' the Norwegian said.
 
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