More Messi history up for grabs
Messi’s double in the Catalans’ 2-0 win at Ajax three weeks ago took him level with Real Madrid legend Raul’s record tally of 71 goals in the competition and ensured Barca’s progress to the last 16 for an 11th consecutive season.
However, Luis Enrique’s men still need at least a point in Cyprus to ensure they can win Group F with victory over Paris Saint-Germain at home in their final group match early next month.
Messi’s latest record feat overshadowed arguably Barca’s best performance of the season so far in crushing Europa League holders Sevilla 5-1 at the weekend, with the Argentine scoring his 27th hat-trick for the club along with goals from Neymar and Ivan Rakitic.
Luis Suarez’s attempts to break his Barcelona duck were frustrated once more but Enrique has no concerns over the Urguayan’s ability to find the back of the net as he again proved his worth with a fourth assist in as many games.
“It will come. To have a goalscorer of that quality and generosity is marvellous,” said Enrique.
“They are all playing for each other. No one doubts that Suarez will score many goals for Barcelona.”
Rakitic also hailed the importance of such a resounding win after a difficult couple of weeks which saw Barca lose to Real Madrid and Celta Vigo in consecutive games before struggling to overcome Almeria 2-1 ahead of the international break.
“It was important to play well and recover good feelings, but above all to regain the confidence of the fans.”
The Croatian is likely to team up with Xavi Hernandez in midfield as Andres Iniesta has been left out of the 22-man squad that will travel to Nicosia on Monday, despite nearing a return to action after a month out.
Thomas Vermaelen has also been left out due to the recurrence of a hamstring injury which has prevented him from making his Barca debut since a summer move from Arsenal.
Three narrow defeats from four matches mean APOEL cannot repeat their remarkable run to the Champions League quarter-finals in the 2011/12 season, but they too still have the prospect of European football into the new year to fight for.
Giorgos Donis’s men trail Ajax by just a point and face the Dutch champions in two weeks time in Amsterdam in what is likely to be a decisive match to decide who claims third place and the consolation prize of dropping into the last 32 of the Europa League- AFP