Lionel Messi struck twice and Dani Alves once as Barcelona booked a place in the Champions League knockout phase with a 3-0 win over Spartak Moscow.
A first-half finishing clinic ensured Tito Vilanova's men bounced back from their memorable defeat at the hands of Celtic to secure their fourth group stage win in comfortable fashion, securing a top-two finish and in all likelihood progress as Group G winners.
Messi's mesmerising presence on the edge of the Spartak box led to Alves hammering home the opener before the incomparable forward added two goals to his assist before the break, bringing his 2012 scoring tally to a mind-blowing 80 and counting.
The home side now have no chance of even making it into the Europa League following Benfica's win over Celtic.
Unai Emery’s side eschewed the traditional approach of teams playing against Barcelona and looked to create their own spells of possession and create attacks naturally via the channels rather than leaving one player alone in the Catalonians’ half.
For a brief early spell, the commendable decision looked like it would pay off but both Dmitri Kombarov and Marek Suchy failed to hit the target when picked out unmarked in the penalty area.
An alarming lack of defensive attention paid to right-forward Pedro almost cost them dearly on several occasions, none more so than in the 12th minute when the Spaniard raced inside from the flank to pull a raking forward pass down onto his chest before forcing a point-blank stop from Andriy Dikan with a fluid volleyed finish.
The breakthrough would come four minutes later thanks to a far more expected and respected attacking source, as Messi spearheaded a traditional Barcelona prolonged period of pressure with wonderful close control on the edge of the box.
When the ball was finally knocked away from his grasp, Alves latched immediately onto the loose ball with a low finish beyond Dikan and inside the far post to break the deadlock.
Messi would get onto the scoresheet himself after 27 minutes in atypically scrappy fashion as Andres Iniesta had a strike kept out by Dikan only for the Argentine to scuff the rebound into the back of the net.
His second of the match, however, was a far more recognisable finish, coming moments after Pedro had thrown himself to the ground when faced with the opportunity to round the Spartak keeper to add the third himself.
After Pedro received a yellow card for simulation, Messi would show him how it was done after being put clean through himself. His casual dance around a despairing Dikan led to his 80th goal of 2012 on 39 minutes.
With it, Messi surpassed Real Madrid icon Raul as the only player to score two or more goals in 15 Champions League contests.
Based on the evidence presented in the first 45 minutes, it came as a surprise that the away team did not finish with a cricket score – though Spartak had their custodian Dikan more than anyone to thank for that.
A number of stops to deny further efforts from Pedro, Messi and Cesc Fabregas ensured a goalless second period, but again poor finishing from Emenike and substitute Welliton meant that a face-saving consolation would also remain elusive.
With the contest long over, Vilanova used the closing 10 minutes to introduce young academy graduates Martin Montoya and Gerard Deulofeu from the bench with little danger of repercussions.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Lionel Messi, Barcelona: With two goals, an assist, the constant danger of even more and another record broken, there was never any alternative.
SPARTAK MOSCOW: Dikan 8, Insaurralde 6, K Kombarov 6, Suchy 6, Makeev 5, Carioca 4, Jurado 5, Kallstrom 5, D Kombarov 6, Ari 5, Emenike 6. Subs: Bryzgalov 5, Ananidze 6, Welliton 6.
BARCELONA: Valdes 7, Mascherano 8, Busquets 7, Alves 7, Pique 7, Alba 6, Fabregas 8, Xavi 7, Iniesta 8, Messi 9, Pedro 6. Subs: Montoya n/a, Song n/a, Deulofeu n/a.
- Sports & Recreation
- Lionel Messi