Messi stars in Barça's Moscow stroll
Lionel Messi continued his prodigious goal-scoring form with a brace as Barcelona qualified for the Last 16 of the UEFA Champions League with a 3-0 win over Spartak Moscow, who are now eliminated.
After Dani Alves put them ahead in the 16th minute, Messi bagged his double before half-time to extend Barça's lead at the top of Group G although Celtic, who face Benfica later, can still overtake them if the Scots win their last two games and Barça slip-up.
Messi, who was top scorer in the competition for a record fourth time last season, now has five goals from five games and he has 80 for the calendar year as he pursues Gerd Muller's 85 playing for Bayern Munich and Germany in 1972. And he moved level with Ruud van Nistelrooy on 56 Champions League goals behind Raul, the competition's all time scorer with 71.
Spartak coach Unai Emery was hampered by a number of injuries including Artem Dzyuba and Aiden McGeady, while Nicolas Pareja was suspended. Carles Puyol returned to the Barça defence in the weekend victory over Zaragoza for the first time since he dislocated his elbow in the Champions League clash with Benfica early in October, but Tito Vilanova chose to rest him with Javier Mascherano partnering Gerard Pique at the heart of the defence.
Barça forged the first opportunity when Pedro Rodriguez chested down a Xavi Hernandez pass, but his volley was saved well by keeper Andrey Dikan. Spartak may be struggling in Europe but they have been playing well domestically and are the top scorers in the Russian top flight. A well worked corner routine could have seen them go ahead, but Dmitriy Kombarov side-footed over from 12 yards out.
Barcelona, though, were less forgiving as Alves fired home a loose ball on the edge of the area minutes later.
The visitors had control of the midfield, but Spartak were dangerous on the break and Marek Suchy failed to hit the target from an Emmanuel Emenike cross after being left unmarked.
Messi on the march
Barça were fully exposing Spartak's weakness at the back with Messi getting his first of the night. Andres Iniesta saw his shot saved by the keeper, but Messi followed up to knock the ball home with his weaker right foot.
Spartak were also stretching Barça's defence, but they continued to waste their openings with keeper Victor Valdes not even forced into making a serious save. Jose Jurado crossed for Emenike, but he also failed to hit the target at full stretch.
Emery said Spartak's aim was to copy Celtic's achievement, where they beat Barça 2-1 at home in their last match, but they were leaving wide spaces at the back for a charged up Barça and Messi gave them a commanding 3-0 lead before the break. Latching onto a Pedro pass, he went round the keeper and slotted home.
After the restart, Barça eased off, but with the quality they have in attack, they continued to create chances. Cesc Fabregas linked up with Iniesta, but after receiving the ball back, he was denied by another good save from Dikan. Minutes later, Pedro headed over from close range.
Emery tried bringing on Zhano Ananidze and Welliton Soares, but the Spartak players' heads had started to drop and apart from an opportunity for Evgeni Makeev, they made few chances to get back into the game as the match wore on.