|(Champions League) Messi pulls off another treble
Lionel Messi marked his 80th Champions League match with a hat trick as Barcelona began their campaign in Group H with a 4-0 rout of Ajax.
The Argentina forward opened the scoring at Wednesday Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona with a free kick in the 22nd minute, doubled the hosts' advantage in the 55th on the break and, after Gerard Pique's 69th-minute goal, added another 15 minutes from fulltime. The goals took his cumulative tally in the competition to 62 _ nine short of Raul Gonzalez's all-time record of 71 goals in 144 appearances.
Messi now stands alone as the only player to have scored a hat trick four times in the tournament, AP reports.
Despite some lethargic moments late in the first half, Barcelona eased to the win thanks to Messi's goals and the team's near complete control of possession.
When Ajax did manage to create a scoring opportunity, Valdes was there to keep a clean sheet.
AC Milan beat Celtic 2-0 in the night's other Group H game.
True to both teams' well-established playing styles, Barcelona and Ajax kept the ball on the turf. While Ajax were limited to former Barcelona forward Bojan Krkic's sprints down the left side, Barcelona soon focused on Neymar cutting in from the left flank.
But it fell to Messi to get the hosts going after he was fouled while dribbling across the edge of the area following a neat passing combination with Dani Alves.
From that prime spot, Messi sent a left-foot shot off the left post, with the ball beating outstretched goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer before ricocheting into the far side of the net.
Ricardo van Rhijn almost answered for Ajax in the 31st when Bojan picked him out with a cross, only for Valdes to smother his header.
Near the end of the first half Barcelona recovered the ball and Sergio Busquets spotted Messi running unmarked down the right side. Messi took his pass, cut back to bring Stefano Denswil to the ground and used his left foot to score.
Neymar, in his European debut, set up Gerard Pique to add Barcelona's third goal with a long cross.
Ajax lost possession near their area and Xavi Hernandez laid the ball off for Messi to take his time before driving it between a pair of defenders and into the corner of the net for his third goal.
Valdes had his moment of glory one minute later in the 76th when he blocked Kolbeinn Sigthorsson's penalty after Javier Mascherano fouled Thulani Serero in the box.
Ajax's defeat was their ninth consecutive loss to a Spanish opponent.