Barça seal knockout spot
© AFP

Reigning champions Barcelona clinched a place in the UEFA Champions League knockout stage with a 2-1 win over hosts Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday, Lionel Messi netting an 86th-minute goal to secure top spot in their group. Forward Artem Milevsky fired Kiev into an early lead, but Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez levelled 12 minutes before the break.

"It was a match of unique importance for us and I'm happy that all my players showed true understanding of that fact," Barcelona manager Josep Guardiola said. "We did our best to take our group's top spot and I'm happy we finished in pole position. It was really hard but our next matches will definitely be even tougher. But we are all ready for it."

Dynamo, who desperately needed to win to continue their campaign, got off to a flying start through Milevsky, who beat Victor Valdes with a close-range header from Andrei Shevchenko's well-struck free-kick in the second minute. The Spanish champions, who were seeking to hold off the challenge for first place from fellow qualifiers Inter Milan, replied positively, pinning the hosts back in an attempt to level but to no immediate avail as Dynamo defended in numbers while relying on rare counter-attacks.

It was a match of unique importance for us and I'm happy that all my players showed true understanding of that fact
Barcelona coach Josep Guardiola.

In the 13th minute, newly-crowned Ballon D'Or winner Messi missed a clear chance to level, when he received the ball after Dynamo goalkeeper Olexander Shovkovsky's mix-up and rushed into the hosts' box. However, Shovkovsky managed to correct his error, parrying the Argentinian forward's shot. Barça kept on probing, keeping Shovkovsky busy, and they pulled level in the 33rd minute, when Xavi redirected Eric Abidal's left-handed cross into the net from close range.

After the interval the guests still looked more dominant, although in the 54th minute Dynamo had another chance for a goal, Milevsky failing to score his second of the match in sending a close-range header just wide from Shevchenko's free-kick out on the left. Barcelona then seized their moment as Messi fired home a precise free-kick with four minutes to go, dashing Kiev's hopes of further progress.

"We were trying to play our best in all of our group matches and, of course, were hoping to move into the last 16," Dynamo manager Valery Gazzaev said. "Unfortunately we lacked skills, experience and luck to go through."