Lionel Messi equalled Raul's record of 71 Champions League goals with a brace to earn Barcelona a 2-0 win over Ajax in Group F. Holland goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen's howler gifted the opener to the Argentina star, who poked home his second in the 76th minute to move level with the record and one ahead of Raul's successor in the Real Madrid number seven shirt, Cristiano Ronaldo. The win confirmed Barca's qualification for the last 16 along with Paris St Germain, who beat APOEL in France, with two games to spare. Neymar's finish in the opening exchanges was for nought due to an offside flag, while Ajax's early efforts came from long range. An important clearance from Ricardo van Rhijn prevented Messi's dangerous cross reaching Neymar, and his efforts were replicated by Jordi Alba at the other end. Barca goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen made a good diving save to keep out Davy Klaassen's left-foot volley while at the other end, Luis Suarez's shot was deflected behind by Joel Veltman and Cillessen stood up well to deny Alba. The key passage of the half began when El Ghazi failed to connect with a free-kick and then rolled around claiming injury, his head having been caught by Alba's shin as the pair fell. Play was not stopped until Neymar was fouled on the break by Veltman and though Cillessen saved Messi's free-kick, he made a horrible mess of dealing with the ball when it came back in and was beaten to it by Marc Bartra. The defender hooked it across and Messi – who had been well offside when Dani Alves played the ball back in – headed home. Veltman's well-judged tackle halted a penetrating run by Neymar as half-time arrived with no further score. A sometimes fractious first half brought six bookings from Portuguese referee Pedro Proenca – Mascherano, Alba and Dani Alves for Barca and Ajax trio El Ghazi, Veltman and Niklas Moisander. Suarez should have broken his Barcelona duck when he ran through one on one with Cillessen but shot straight at the keeper and could not control the rebound. Messi curled the loose ball just wide. The Uruguayan nicely controlled Neymar's through-ball but could not pick out Messi and it was Ajax who could have scored when Serero's free-kick picked out substitute Arkadiusz Milik, who headed wide. The hosts lost Veltman, though, when he bundled over Messi and collected a second yellow card. Messi sent the free-kick onto the roof of the net. But the 27-year-old was not to be denied his moment of history and when Pedro, just introduced as a substitute for Neymar, crossed low into the six-yard box Messi stretched to divert the ball into the net. Cillessen denied the Argentinian a hat-trick and another effort was deflected over by Moisander – but his and Barca's work was done.
Football CHAMPIONS LEAGUE