Messi hits four as Barca maintains perfect start

FC Barcelonas Lionel Messi kicks the ball to score during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between FC Barcelona and Eibar at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday. (AP)
Updated 20 September 2017
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Messi hits four as Barca maintains perfect start

MADRID: Lionel Messi added four more goals to his soaring early season tally as a much-changed Barcelona maintained their 100 percent start to La Liga by routing Eibar 6-1 on Tuesday.
Paulinho and Denis Suarez also netted for the second consecutive game as Barca stretched their lead at the top of La Liga to seven points over Real Madrid, who hosted Real Betis on Wednesday.
“That Messi scored four goals now isn’t news,” said Barca boss Ernesto Valverde after the Argentine’s 43rd career hat trick.
“He has done it so many nights, in so many games. To keep repeating it is the most difficult thing.
“He is an extraordinary player. I have run out of words for him.”
Messi played in a more central role as Valverde heavily rotated his side for the first time since taking charge with Luis Suarez dropping to the bench among six changes from Saturday’s hard-fought 2-1 win at Getafe.
And contrary to their fortunes last season, Barca’s back-ups proved Valverde can take the luxury of resting some of his star names with Paulinho particularly impressive on his first start.
Messi opened the scoring in nonchalant fashion from the penalty spot on 21 minutes after Nelson Semedo had been felled by an ungainly challenge from Alejandro Galvez.
Paulinho’s €40 million ($48 million) signing from Chinese side Guangzhou Evergrande was one of a series of moves that drew stinging criticism for Barca’s board following Neymar’s world-record departure for Paris Saint-Germain.
However, after coming off the bench to score the winner at Getafe, Paulinho powered home his second Barca goal from Denis Suarez’s corner seven minutes before halftime.
Paulinho also played his part in Barca’s third with a cute dummy that freed Messi and, when his shot was parried by Marko Dmitrovic, Denis Suarez fired home the rebound.
Sergi Enrich reduced the arrears when he capitalized on some sloppy Barca defending to slot home David Junca’s cross.
However, Messi quickly restored Barca’s three-goal lead with a lovely measured finish from the edge of the box.
The five-time world player of the year completed his hat trick just after the hour mark by prodding through Dmitrovic’s legs from Paulinho’s pass.
And he added his 12th goal in just eight games this season three minutes from time after a neat one-two with Aleix Vidal.
Barca lead second-placed Sevilla, who hosted Las Palmas on Wednesday, by five points with Valencia now just a point further adrift as they moved up to third thanks to Simone Zaza’s seven-minute hat-trick in a 5-0 thrashing of Malaga.
By contrast, a fifth straight defeat to start the season sees Malaga slip to bottom of the table and plunges coach Michel into further danger of becoming the second La Liga boss to be sacked this term.
“I am tremendously proud of the performance of the players. It is a joy to be able to enjoy it with our fans,” said Valencia coach Marcelino.
Santi Mina got the rout started after just 17 minutes with a neat header from Carles Soler’s cross.
Zaza then completed his first ever hat-trick with three clinical close-range finishes between the 55th and 62nd minute before substitute Rodrigo rounded off the scoring.
And the former Juventus striker shrugged off a bust-up with Marcelino after being dropped for Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Levante.
“I didn’t have anything to prove,” Zaza told BeIN Sports Spain.
“What happened on Saturday is already forgotten, I think it is normal that a player is angry when he doesn’t play.”


Work still to be done for Egypt's Al-Ahly in quest for African Champions League glory

Updated 23 September 2018
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Work still to be done for Egypt's Al-Ahly in quest for African Champions League glory

  • The Egyptian giants took a step closer to a ninth continental title
  • Attention immediately changed to the first leg against Setif in Cairo on Oct. 2

CAIRO: Al-Ahly coach Patrice Carteron has warned his players against complacency in their forthcoming African Champions League semifinal clash against Setif of Algeria, even though his side swept through with a 4-0 quarterfinal second-leg victory over Guinea’s Horoya in Cairo on Saturday.
The Egyptian giants took a step closer to a ninth continental title with the win against the Guineans after a goalless first leg. From the moment Walid Soliman opened the scoring after 32 minutes at the Al-Salam Stadium, the result was never in doubt as the Reds put in a dominant performance.
Second half goals from Islam Mohareb, Salah Mohsen and Ahmed Fathy confirmed the win.
“It was a good performance, especially as the pitch was poor,” Carteron said. “We are happy to go through but we controlled the game, especially in the second half when we were at our best. We adjusted our offensive strategy at the break and that made a difference.”
Attention immediately changed to the first leg against Setif in Cairo on Oct. 2.
“We know that the game will be very tough as Setif are a strong team but this is the semifinal of the Champions League, you know that any game is going to be tough,” added the Frenchman.
Setif defeated defending champions Wydad Casablanca of Morocco 1-0 on aggregate and will host Al-Ahly in Algeria in the second leg on Oct. 23.
“Setif were the champions in 2014 and we know that we are going to have be at our best if we are going to the final,” said the 48 year-old, who also coached TP Mazembe of Congo to the 2015 title. He is aiming to deliver similar success for Al-Ahly, who last lifted the trophy in 2013.
“When I took the job three months ago, the target was clear: to win the Champions League. That is still the objective and we have taken a big step toward that today.
“Standards in the competition are getting better all the time and results in the quarterfinal show this,” Carteron said, adding that he and his players had taken note of how Mazembe had been knocked out at the last-eight stage.
“Now we are in the semifinal and we have to prepare as well as we can to face Setif. It will be a big challenge but we are looking forward to it.”
Setif reached the semifinal after a 0-0 draw in the second leg in Morocco on Friday to take the tie 1-0 on aggregate following a win on Algerian soil a week earlier.
Goalkeeper Moustapha Zeghba was the star of the show in Casablanca and made a number of fine saves to deny the defending champions.
It was a feather in the cap for coach Rachid Taoussi, a Moroccan who coached Wydad from 2002 to 2003.
“We managed this game very well,” Taoussi said. “We withstood the pressure. It is not easy to keep out such a team, especially with their fans behind them. In the end they had to play long balls and that made it easier for us to defend.”
While Morocco may have lost its sole representative left in the competition, Taoussi is flying the flag for his homeland. “I am proud to be Moroccan. I respect Wydad and the supporters a lot. It’s not easy for anyone to come here and play like we did.
“It is also a demonstration for those who constantly criticize the skills of Moroccan coaches. I’m so happy. That said, the most important thing for us now is to think about going even further in this competition, that is, reaching the final. We have one more step to go; we will give everything until the end.”
The other semifinal sees a third North African team trying to reach the showpiece event as Esperance de Tunis take on Clube Desportivo de Agosto of Angola.