Messi two away from Raul goals record as Barcelona beats Ajax
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Goals from Neymar and Lionel Messi helped Barcelona to a 3-1 victory over Ajax in the Champions League on Tuesday as the Spanish giant returned to winning ways in Europe.
Messi started an outstanding performance at Camp Nou by setting up Neymar in the seventh minute before the Argentine scored in the 24th.
Messi's 69th career goal in Europe's top-tier competition moved him to within two goals of Raul Gonzalez's all-time record of 71. He is tied with Cristiano Ronaldo before Real Madrid visits Liverpool on Wednesday.
Anwar El Ghazi pulled one back for Ajax in the 88th, while fellow substitute Sandro Ramirez struck in stoppage time for the hosts.
Barcelona, which had lost 3-2 at Paris Saint-Germain in its previous match, has six points from three games in Group F.
Barcelona can now focus on its Spanish league clash at Real Madrid on Saturday, when it will look to strengthen its lead while Messi hunts for one goal to equal Telmo Zarra's all-time league record of 251 goals.
PSG remains top of the group with seven points after Edinson Cavani scored three minutes from time to grab a 1-0 win at APOEL in Cyprus. Ajax is third with two points while APOEL has one.
Messi and Neymar continued their scoring connection to put the game beyond doubt before the half-hour mark after each netted goals for the fifth consecutive match. Only the woodwork, some sound goalkeeping and the two stars being substituted saved Ajax from a bigger defeat.
After some leisurely back-and-forth passing at the start, Messi sparked Barcelona's opener by suddenly changing pace to weave together a quick passing combination with Pedro Rodriguez before picking out Neymar on the left. The Brazil striker used his right foot to curl the ball beyond goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen and increase his team-leading tally to 10 goals this season, while Messi recorded his team-best ninth assist.
Messi soon added his ninth goal of the campaign when Barcelona won possession in midfield. Messi surged forward and used his right boot to control Andres Iniesta's crisp and perfectly-timed pass to meet his run before tapping the ball beyond Cillessen with his left. The goalie got a touch on the ball but not enough to stop it from trickling over the line.
Messi came close to setting up another goal for Pedro in the 29th after he again dribbled through the middle, only to see his close-range effort clip the far post.
Iniesta had his opportunity to add another goal in the 39th after fending off by two tackles to break free into the area, but Cillessen did well to palm his chip shot wide.
Ajax did nothing more in the first half than earn a couple of late corner kicks, either side of Kolbeinn Sigthorsson's deflected shot that bounced wide with goalie Marc-Andre ter Stegen stranded.
Messi produced three shots in the first seven minutes of the second half, having one goal waived off for offside and hitting the sidenetting from close range.
Barcelona's first defensive lapse let Ricardo van Rhijn drive the ball by the Ter Stegen's near post in the 55th.
Coach Luis Enrique took off Neymar in the 62nd with Messi following him to the bench four minutes as the first "clasico" match of the season loomed at the weekend. Iniesta also left with 15 to play.
El Ghazi went on in the 73rd and scrambled home a loose ball before Sandro got his goal late to ease the late jitters among the home crowd.