Messi celebrates, Liverpool frustrated in Champions League
Another day to celebrate for Lionel Messi. Another frustrating day for Liverpool against a familiar opponent.
Messi marked his 700th game for Barcelona with a goal and two assists in a 3-1 win over Borussia Dortmund 3-1 that sent his team into the knockout rounds of the Champions League on Wednesday.
Defending champion Liverpool couldn’t replicate that feat as it struggled once again against Napoli.
The two clubs have played four times in the last 13 months, with Napoli winning two of those games. This time, Dejan Lovren’s header rescued a 1-1 draw for Liverpool, which must try again to qualify against Salzburg on Dec. 10.
Chelsea will also have to wait for qualification after drawing 2-2 with Valencia on a freak goal, while Leipzig qualified for the first time after a dramatic comeback. Talented teenager Erling Haaland scored again for Salzburg to set a record.
MESSI CLEANS UP
It’s not like Barcelona to grind out results, and beating Dortmund brought back some welcome swagger.
For the team that leads La Liga despite rarely seeming to reach top gear, Barcelona’s 3-1 win over Dortmund finally showcased the talent and creativity in the team.
As they have for years, Messi and Luis Suarez combined for the first two goals. First Messi assisted for Suarez, then the Uruguayan returned the favor. Another Messi assist set up Antoine Griezmann for the third.
For Dortmund, it was a third game without a win and perhaps a step closer to the exit for coach Lucian Favre. He and the players were already targets for fans’ anger after Friday’s 3-3 Bundesliga draw with Paderborn.
Earlier, Lautaro Martinez scored twice as Inter Milan beat Slavia Prague 3-1. Inter can still qualify from Group F, but Slavia is out.
Another game against Napoli and more frustration.
The Italian side stopped Liverpool sealing a spot in the knockout stages, but couldn’t quite snatch a third win in its last four games against the Champions League holder.
Dries Mertens scored from a long pass in the 21st before Lovren’s header from a corner leveled the game for Liverpool. There was a blow for the Reds as defensive midfielder Fabinho was forced off injured.
The draw halted a seven-game winning streak for Liverpool in all competitions, including a win on penalties over Arsenal in the League Cup.
“We couldn’t put it to bed tonight but it’s the Champions League, it’s difficult,” Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson said. “It’s always difficult, there are some really good teams so we have to stay positive.”
In the other Group E game, Erling Haaland became the first teenager to score in five consecutive Champions League games as Salzburg beat Genk 4-1. The Norwegian 19-year-old came off the bench to get one assist and score Salzburg’s fourth.
Salzburg can still qualify if it beats Liverpool in the final game.
CHELSEA LEFT WAITING
Chelsea could have gone through with a win over Valencia, but drew 2-2 and must now wait until its final group game against Lille.
Valencia missed a series of chances including a penalty before Daniel Wass scored a freak goal from a cross in the 82nd to snatch a point for Valencia.
“We created a lot, both teams, I don’t know how many goals there could have been in that game,” Chelsea manager Frank Lampard said. “We can’t turn away from the fact that they had a lot of clear chances. They were arriving in our box far too much.”
Ajax beat last-place Lille 2-0 to cement top spot in Group H and now only needs to avoid defeat against Valencia on Dec. 10 to continue a campaign which began in the qualifying rounds.
LEIPZIG’S LATE GOALS
Leipzig’s fans turned up expecting to see their team qualify for the knockout stages for the first time against Benfica. They got that in the end, after an improbable comeback.
Benfica faced elimination if it didn’t win and seized on Leipzig defensive errors to score two goals, the second of those also leading to an apparent head injury for Leipzig’s goalkeeper Péter Gulácsi.
However, Leipzig mounted an extraordinary late comeback to grab the point it needed to qualify. Emil Forsberg made it 2-1 with a 90th-minute penalty and then leveled the game in the sixth minute of added time with a header.
Zenit St. Petersburg and Lyon will fight for the second qualifying spot in the group after Zenit beat its French opponent 2-0 in the other game in Group G.