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Champions League: Messi's brace sinks brave Spartak

Spain,Sports, Thu, 20 Sep 2012 IANS

Barcelona, Sep 20 (IANS/RIA Novosti) Lionel Messi scored twice in nine minutes to turn a potential defeat into 3-2 victory for Barcelona in their Champions League football opener against Spartak Moscow here.

Spartak had threatened to repeat the 2009 surprise 2-1 victory at the Camp Nou by fellow Russians Rubin Kazan when they went ahead through Romulo on 59 minutes Wednesday.

But the Argentina star tapped home on 72 minutes to equalise and headed an 81st-minute winner to turn the result around.

Cristian Tello had scored the opener for the hosts on 14 minutes, picking up the ball from Xavi Hernandez and wrong-footing right-back Kirill Kombarov before stroking a 20-yard shot low into the far corner.

Spartak equalised in fortuitous circumstances on the half hour mark when fullback Dani Alves inadvertently bundled a cross by Emmanuel Emenike into his own net.

With Benfica and Celtic's goalless draw in Glasgow the other match in Group G, Barcelona go top of the group with Spartak last.

"We went out to play football today, there were no nerves," said Spartak defender Evgeny Makeev, a second-half substitute. "It's true Barcelona are Barcelona, they play their football, but we could have won."

The Russians next host Celtic in Moscow Oct 2, while Barcelona travel to Benfica.

Despite their customary possession advantage, Barcelona often lacked a cutting edge up front and were quickly compromised at the back when centre-back Gerard Pique limped off with an ankle injury on 12 minutes.

But they opened the scoring with trademark efficiency as Tello lashed home for the opener.

That grace was conspicuously missing in defence in 29th minute, however, when Pique replacement Alex Song fell over as he tried to clear Emineke's cross from the right and Alves seemed unable to avoid sending the ball into the net.

Spartak put together a move worthy of their illustrious hosts to go ahead, when Brazilian striker Ari charged up the field with the ball to find Aiden McGeady on the edge of the area.

The Irishman picked out Romulo's run into the box for the Brazilian youngster to slide past Victor Valdes.

Barcelona's 71st-minute equalizer saw outstanding individual skill from Tello, who picked up the ball out wide and beat McGeady, lobbed the ball past onrushing goalkeeper Andriy Dikan and two defenders for Messi to place into the empty net.

That left Spartak, so long full of running, visibly deflated, and the Russians never threatened seriously again.

Spartak had earlier gone close through Juan Manuel Insaurralde, who had an early overhead kick bounce just wide, and McGeady, who sent a power drive inches over Valdes' goal from range.

For Barcelona, the chances came thicker and faster.

Messi rippled the side netting in 21st minute with a curling left-footed effort.

Shortly after the own-goal equaliser, Sergio Busquets headed wide twice in the space of a minute from set pieces, before Dikan tipped a looping Cesc Fabregas header over his crossbar.

Just before half-time, Xavi sent a low shot wide from outside the box.

Five minutes after the break, Alves lashed the ball into the net from close range, but it was disallowed for offside.

A failed Barcelona attack led directly to Romulo's goal, Dikan blocking Messi's shot with his knee before the Russian team countered.

Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova responded immediately to Spartak taking the lead, replacing Alves with forward Alexis Sanchez. Messi and Song then missed the target for the hosts at set-pieces.

After the 2-2 equaliser, striker David Villa was brought on and almost scored but for a desperate Spartak diving block.

Sanchez missed late chance to extend Barcelona's lead to after Messi's second when he sliced wide in space in the box.

--IANS/RIA Novosti

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