x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Prolific Lionel Messi moves level on goals with Laszlo Kubala

Argentine's two goals in their 5-0 Champions League win at BATE Borisov moves him joint-second with the Barcelona legend Laszlo Kubala.

Barcelona's last two defeats in the Champions League group stage came against teams from the former Soviet Union, but there was little chance of a repeat in Minsk against Belarus champions BATE Borisov last night.

Pep Guardiola's side were so dominant in their 5-0 victory that his players barely bothered to celebrate their goals. Barca were not stretched, yet they still enjoyed 80 per cent of the possession, with BATE chasing shadows as they failed to stifle the visitors unrelenting dominance.

Lionel Messi's two goals gave him parity with Barca legend Laszlo Kubala on 194 goals for the Blaugrana.

The pair are now second in the club's all-time top goalscorers' chart behind 1940s striker Cesar, but while Kubala took 11 years to get his goals, Messi has taken just six.

With their home stadium limited to a 6,000 capacity, BATE moved their Champions League games to the 41,000 capacity Dinamo Stadium in the capital Minsk, 241 kilometres from Borisov.

It was the right choice, with a partisan sell-out crowd supporting a home side who had come through three qualifying games to reach the group stage for only the second time in their history, yet the game was embarrassingly one-sided.

Despite their provincial status, BATE have been the dominant club in the former Soviet state since 2006, with five successive titles. Coach Viktar Goncharenko, 34, has been the key figure behind the rise. The former BATE defender became the youngest ever manager in the Champions League in 2008 when BATE met Real Madrid. They lost that game, just as they lost all six games against Spanish opponents.

BATE's European form has been better, undefeated for nine games in various Uefa competitions before last night, yet they were still chasing a first ever Champions League victory.

A BATE victory looked improbable with a formation so defensive that Barca could afford to play only three defenders. The hosts even narrowed the pitch in an attempt to contain the European champions, but the persistent rain aided Barca's slick passing and BATE's feeble resistance was fortunate to hold out until the 18th minute, when Daniel Alves crossed to the back post.

Messi was unmarked and would have scored his 38th European goal in 59 matches, but defender Volodko turned the ball into his own goal.

The Catalans doubled the lead three minutes later when BATE were again caught out at the back post. Pedro timed a run to meet a cross from David Villa delivered between the full-back and the goalkeeper. The Canarian headed the ball past goalkeeper Gutor and the result was beyond doubt with less than a quarter of the game gone.

Messi made it 3-0 in the 38th minute when the unfortunate Gutor dropped a cross from Pedro into the path of the Argentine forward.

Barca made it four in the 55th minute when Daniel Alves crossed for Messi to smash the ball into the roof of the net to match Kubala's goal total.

Aged just 24, he is almost certain to surpass Cesar's 235 goal record within the next year or two.

David Villa got Barca's fifth and final goal a minute from time after taking advantage of BATE's tiring legs, but it was Messi who grabbed the headlines.


Follow The National Sport on @SprtNationalUAE & Andy Mitten on @AndyMitten