Messi's Champions League love affair rolls on
Lionel Messi's seemingly endless love affair with the Champions League continued with another virtuoso two-goal performance on Wednesday for Barcelona.
Two typically ruthless finishes earned the 2009 champions a 2-0 Group D victory over FC Copenhagen to propel Barcelona a point clear of the Danes at the top of the standings with seven from a possible nine after three games.
Messi once again proved the difference for his club as he has so often already this season after what was, by his sky-high standards, a wretched World Cup for Argentina in June.
Top scorer in last season's Champions League, the forward netted his third goal of the latest edition in the 19th minute when he controlled a pass from Andres Iniesta and lashed the ball into the top left corner from just outside the area.
The home side controlled the rest of the match comfortably enough but lacked their usual cutting edge and Messi had to wait until second-half added time for his second of the night and 27th in 35 Champions League games over the last four seasons.
A miscued shot from fullback Eric Abidal bounced over Johan Wiland and fell to Messi, who bundled it over the line with the Copenhagen keeper stranded.
"Although we had control, the murmurings in the stands were because we didn't kill off the game and we could have ended up with only a point," Barca coach Pep Guardiola said.
"We simply didn't put the ball in the net (in the first half)," he added. "But that's the way it is sometimes and we played a good match overall."
Image: Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring
'Our players can be proud; they were facing the best in the world'
With Xavi suffering from an ankle problem, Guardiola left the Spain playmaker out of his starting 11 and fielded Javier Mascherano, Sergio Busquets and Maxwell across the midfield.
Andres Iniesta was deployed just behind forwards Messi and David Villa and Spain striker Villa almost grabbed the lead in the fifth minute when he twisted and turned inside the area before curling a shot against the crossbar.
Copenhagen, who had never beaten a Spanish club in six previous meetings, posed more of a threat in the second half and the impressive Dame N'Doye gave Barca's Spain central defenders Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol a torrid time.
The Senegalese striker came close to a shock equaliser in the 67th when he cracked the ball against the bar from distance and Barca goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto, playing in place of the unwell Victor Valdes, had to be alert to deal with a long-range effort from Copenhagen captain William Kvist in the 87th.
Barca fullback Daniel Alves struck a post with a low drive two minutes later before Messi's second killed off the game.
"In the second half we managed to get a good rhythm and we had some chances," Copenhagen coach Stale Solbakken, who cut an animated figure on the touchline, said.
"The players can be proud of their performance. They were facing the best team in the world."
With three of six matches played, Barca have seven points and Copenhagen are second on six. Rubin Kazan, who held Barca 1-1 at home on matchday two, have two points and Panathinaikos one after the pair drew 0-0 in Athens on Wednesday.
Image: Barcelona's Gerard Pique (centre) vies for possession with FC Copenhagen's Martin Vingaard and Claudemir (left)
Nani's early goal gives Man United victory
Winger Nani's early strike gave Manchester United a 1-0 win over Bursaspor in Champions League Group C on Wednesday as a subdued Old Trafford digested striker Wayne Rooney's confirmation that he wanted to leave.
Portugal international Nani broke the deadlock in the seventh minute when he turned and ran towards goal before unleashing a fine curling shot from 20 metres out.
United dominated possession and had the better chances, with defenders Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra going close, although against a better class of opponent they would have been made to pay for some patchy defending.
The build-up to the match had been dominated by Rooney who said on Wednesday that his future lay away from Old Trafford. The injured England striker did not play against Bursaspor.
Victory kept United top of the group with seven points from three games, while Turkish champions Bursaspor remain rooted to the bottom with no points.
Alex Ferguson, marking his 2,000th match as a professional soccer manager, had made five changes from the team that drew 2-2 against West Bromwich Albion in the league at the weekend, with 19-year-old Federico Macheda spearheading the attack.The young Italian had the first chance of the game in the fourth minute but his shot was well blocked by visiting keeper Dimitar Ivankov but three minutes later the Bulgarian had no chance against Nani's blistering solo effort.
Image: Manchester United's Nani (right) celebrates with Federico Macheda after scoring
Bursaspor looked dangerous on the counter
United controlled the first half but showed moments of the vulnerability at the back that has been causing them concern in the domestic season, allowing Bursaspor decent counter-attacking chances for Federico Insua and Ozan Ipek.
Vidic could have doubled United's lead but sent his header wide, while Michael Carrick sent a shot flying high over the bar.
Right back Rafael and left back Evra were often so far forward that United had only two defenders for large periods of time and were lucky that the Champions League debutants seemed to panic when they found space.
Evra forced a save from Ivankov on the hour with a tight-angled drive from the left and Nani was on target again midway through the second half with a right-footed shot from the edge of the box.
Substitute Gabriel Obertan headed just wide at the near post seven minutes from time and Javier Hernandez fired inches wide late on but United could not find the net and just managed to hold on to their slim lead.
While the football was often less than exciting, in the stands Turkish fans made the most of the trip with choreographed scarf waving, jumping and arm movements that looked like an aerobics class and kept them warm on a chilly evening.
Image: Manchester United's Rafael (right) challenges Bursaspor's Ozan Ipek
Bale treble in vain as Inter beat 10-man Spurs
Holders Inter Milan scored three early goals in a crazy start and then had to withstand a Gareth Bale-inspired comeback to squeeze past Tottenham Hotspur 4-3 in Champions League Group A on Wednesday.
The San Siro faithful and thousands of excited Spurs fans barely had time to take their seats before Samuel Eto'o's second-minute pass found Javier Zanetti and the Inter captain calmly netted his first club goal since February 2008.
Jonathan Biabiany was then brought down by Spurs goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes, who stood his ground and forced the referee to show him a red card a second time following consultation with the goalline assistant.
Champions League debutants Spurs can claim Gomes's dismissal was harsh given forward Biabiany had pushed the ball past the keeper as he jumped, and there were also players covering, but they can make little excuse for their porous defending.
Image: Tottenham Hotspur's Gareth Bale (right) celebrates with teammate Robbie Keane after scoring against Inter Milan
Eto'o has scored 14 goals from 12 matches this season
Eto'o converted the resulting penalty and Dejan Stankovic rifled in the third on 14 minutes before the red-hot Cameroon striker bagged his sixth Champions League goal this term to send Inter 4-0 up at the break.
Inter number nine Eto'o has now netted a mind-boggling 14 goals in 12 matches this season, scored a hat-trick against Werder Bremen last month and could easily have struck three again on Wednesday.
Spurs, though, refused to concede defeat and started the long road back early in the second half after a barnstorming run-and-shot from left-sided midfielder Bale.
The Wales international then added a replica second in the 90th minute before completing his hat-trick with a low drive from 16 metres in stoppage time.
Inter top the group with seven points from three matches while Spurs have four points.
Image: Inter Milan's Samuel Eto'o celebrates after scoring
Vintage Raul finally shows Real form for Schalke
Raul has not been the quickest to adapt to pastures new with Schalke 04 after moving from his beloved Real Madrid but Wednesday offered evidence at last that he is finally feeling at home.
His two goals -- the Spaniard's first in the Champions League for the Germans following his July move -- took Schalke to a 3-1 win over Hapoel Tel Aviv in Group B.
Equally to the point, it showed Raul in the kind of form which made him such a handful in his 18 distinguished years at the Bernabau.
The goals advanced the competition's all-time leading scorer's tally to 68 and nobody was smiling more afterwards than his manager Felix Magath who knows better than most the problems Raul has had with only one goal in the Bundesliga so far.
"For him this is liberation. You just saw how good he positions himself. 68 goals," said Magath.
"I think he knows by now how to enjoy such goals -- but hopefully not with a glass of Rioja wine."
The 33-year-old Raul is too much of a professional and too experienced to break open the best red vintage just yet.
He opened his account in the third minute after Klaas-Jan Huntelaar let a Jose Manuel Jurado pass slide through his legs.
He doubled the hosts' lead with a close range effort in the 58th minute before Jurado added another 10 minutes later.
"I am delighted tonight because we played a very good game and we were better than our opponents," a beaming Raul said.
"To score two goals in such a big game, my first for Schalke (in the Champions League) makes me feel good. I never thought I would score 68 goals. It is a day that I want to remember."
Image: Schalke 04's Raul celebrates after scoring
Schechter nets consolation goal for Hapoel Tel Aviv
The Israelis, who found no answer to Schalke's attacking game, got a stoppage time consolation goal through Etey Schechter.
Schalke, who are struggling near the bottom of the Bundesliga after a miserable start to the season despite spending millions buying new players over the summer, attacked from the start as Magath opted for an aggressive formation.
Raul and Huntelaar were supported by Jurado and fellow attacking midfielder Jefferson Farfan while versatile defender Jermaine Jones was picked instead of Joel Matip.
The move paid off as Huntelaar and Raul left their markers frozen with a dazzling combination, with the Dutchman letting a Jurado pass roll through his legs and the Spaniard firing in an unstoppable left-footed shot.
Schalke deserved at least one more goal before Raul struck again in the second half, with Huntelaar being denied by Hapoel keeper Vincent Enyeama from close range.
Huntelaar then managed to hit the crossbar with two consecutive headers as Schalke upped the pressure early in the second half in search for another goal.
Raul made amends for the miss in the 58th minute, tucking in an Ivan Rakitic pass before Jurado added another 10 minutes later with a fine curled shot from inside the box.
Hapoel's Schechter grabbed a goal for the visitors deep in stoppage time after a defensive mix-up.
"It was crucial for us to score goals tonight and play a good game," said Magath. "I hope that gives us some more self confidence."
Image: Schalke 04's Atsuto Uchida is challenged by Hapoel Tel Aviv's Etey Schechter (right)