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Messi hat-trick steers Barca into knockout stages

LIONEL MESSI scored a hat-trick as reigning champions Barcelona booked their place in the UEFA Champions League knockout stages with a 4-0 win at Viktoria Plzen.

Pep Guardiola's men proved far too strong for the Czech side, whose already tall order had become an almost insurmountable one after Marian Cisovsky was sent off for fouling Messi in the 22nd minute.

Messi tucked away the resulting penalty and added his second in first-half injury time. Cesc Fabregas added a third before Messi completed his hat-trick in the last minute to guarantee the holders' passage out of a lopsided Group H.

Milan joined Barca in the knockout stages despite being forced to settle for a point against BATE Borisov in Minsk.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic put the Italians ahead with his 22nd-minute opener and, despite Renan Bressan's 55th-minute penalty earning the Belarusian side a point, Milan's superior head-to-head record in the games between the sides means their six-point margin over BATE is sufficient.

While Chelsea were held to a 1-1 draw by Group E minnows Genk, Valencia moved back into contention with a 3-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen.

Second-half goals from Roberto Soldado and Adil Rami saw the Spaniards home after Leverkusen's Stefan Kiessling cancelled out a first-minute opener from Jonas, which was the second-fastest goal in Champions League history.

Valencia's win takes them within one point of the second-placed Germans and three shy of leaders Chelsea, with the ailing Londoners facing a potentially crucial trip to Leverkusen later this month.

Arsenal retained control of Group F with a goalless draw against Marseille in London, maintaining the Gunners' single-point lead in the group with a home tie with Borussia Dortmund next to come.

The Germans staked their own belated claim for a knockout stage place with their first win over Olympiakos. Kevin Grosskreutz's winner took them to within three points of Marseille.

Surprise package APOEL Nicosia continue to lead Group G after a dramatic 2-1 win over Porto in Cyprus.

Zenit St Petersburg are three points clear in second place after a 1-0 win over Ukraine's Shakhtar Donetsk.


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