Sunday 21 January 2018

Xavi the difference in thriller

Barcelona clinched top spot in Group H by beating AC Milan 3-2 last night after twice losing the lead in a pulsating match in which Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored against his former Spanish employers.

Milan midfielder Mark van Bommel put Barcelonaahead in the 14th minute with an own goal and, despite Ibrahimovic's leveller, Lionel Messi's twice-taken penalty ensured the defending champions went into the break in front.

Kevin-Prince Boateng pounced in the 54th with some wonderful individual skill to get Milan back into the game, but Xavi Hernandez combined with Messi to score the winner shortly after the hour mark -- Messi's through ball cutting out four defenders.

With both teams having already qualified for the knockout phase, Barcelona ensured top spot with one group game remaining.

Elsewhere Valencia thumped Genk 7-0 --Roberto Soldado scored a first-half hat-trick -- at home in Group E to help their chances of reaching the last 16.

The surprise result of the night saw Olympiacos win 1-0 away to Marseille to blow open the race for second place in Group F -- Giannis Fetfatzidis got the all important strike in the 82nd minute.

Another surprise came in Group G when Apoel became the first Cypriot team to reach the knockout stages by holding Zenit St Petersburg to a 0-0 draw. Apoel has been the surprise so far and remained unbeaten in five matches to top the group one ahead of Zenit.

In the same group Porto got two goals late in the second half to beat Shakhtar Donetsk 2-0 to raise their hopes of progressing.

Hulk scored 10 minutes from time in frosty Donetsk to put the visitors ahead before Romanian defender Razvan Rat scored an own goal in the dying moments of the game to wrap up the victory for the Portuguese side.

Irish Independent

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