BARCELONA: Leo Messi’s ability to turn a game single-handed more consistently and reliably than any other player in the world continues to prove the ace in the pack forBarcelona.

The 25-year-old Argentinian is now only 17 goals short of Raul Gonzalez’s Champions League marksmanship record of 71 which, at his current accelerated rate of progress, he should surpass by the end of next season.

Messi’s latest flourish, in the last 20 minutes of Barcelona’s opening group clash at home to Moscow Spartak, turned the prospect of an upset defeat into a 3-2 home victory.

Cristian Tello had put Barca ahead in the 14th minute but an own goal from Dani Alves and a second-half strike from Borges Romulo saw Spartak turn the game on its head and rattle Nou Camp. Messi then stepped up to the plate with goals in the 71st and 80th minutes to fire Tito Vilanova’s men top of Group G.

The other group game saw Celtic held goalless at home by Benfica.

Group E saw Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored twice to give Shakhtar Donetsk a 2-0 win over Nordsjaelland and take initial leadership ahead of holders Chelsea and Juventus who shared a 2-2 draw atStamfordBridge. Juve, who hit back through Arturo Vidal and Quagliarella after going two-down in 20 minutes, might even snatched victory after an impressively stolid second-half performance.

Plus points forChelseawere two magnificent early goals for Brazilian newcomer Oscar, handed his first start after three substitutes appearances. Still, the draw was a disappointment considering that the Blues won all their home games in last season’s remarkable campaign.

In Group F, Bayern Munich and BATE Borisov both started their campaigns with victories.

Bayern beatValencia2-1 with Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos on the scoresheet for the Germans with the Spanish side pulling a goal back late on through Nelson Haedo Valdez. Bayern also missed a last-minute penalty through Mario Mandzukic afterValenciadefender Adil Rami had been sent off.

Belarusian champions BATE saw offLille3-1 thanks to a blistering first-half display.

Alexander Volodko swept the visitors in front with just six minutes on the clock with a superb lofted finish over Mickael Landreau, and further goals from Vitaly Rodionov and Edgar Olekhnovich effectively ended the contest before half-time.

Aurelien Chedjou reduced the deficit just before the hour mark but the French side could not get any closer.

In Group H, the early leaders are CFR Cluj, who beatBraga2-0 away following a classy first-half brace from Brazilian striker Rafael Bastos. Former champions Manchester United managed an uneasy 1-0 home win over Galatasaray on a seventh-minute strike from Michael Carrick. United could have been spared a nervy finale had Nani not missed a penalty. Manager Sir Alex Ferguson later blamed himself for not insisting before the game that Robin Van Persie – in the continued absence of injured Wayne Rooney – should take any spotkicks.


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