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Paris St-Germain holds off Barcelona in UCL group surprise


PARIS (AP) — Paris Saint-Germain set this season's Champions League alight on Tuesday with a thrilling 3-2 victory over Lionel Messi's Barcelona in Group F.

David Luiz and midfielder Marco Verratti scored their first goals for PSG as the French club produced its best performance of the season to defeat a Barcelona lineup that is unbeaten in the Spanish league.

"I'll remember this win, you do the job to experience games like these," said PSG coach Laurent Blanc, who was under pressure after six draws in nine games. "The allure of the Champions League, playing Barcelona at home, it means that you're more motivated. We needed a game like this given the situation we were in."

Luiz put PSG ahead in the 10th minute, with Messi equalizing two minutes later. Poor Barcelona defending allowed Verratti — one of the smallest players on the pitch — to drift in unmarked to head PSG ahead again in the 26th.

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"We made a few mistakes at the start and we knew they were very strong on set pieces," Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said. "I'm not surprised at all. We know the level of this team and they have aspirations to win this competition."

Midfielder Blaise Matuidi finished off a fine move to give PSG a 3-1 lead in the 54th but Barcelona's Brazilian star Neymar replied in the 56th, again exposing PSG's defensive vulnerability after the euphoria of scoring.

Barcelona almost equalized in the 85th when Munir El Haddadi struck the base of the post and then Sandro Ramirez dragged his shot wide in the closing seconds. PSG had been short of confidence this season, while Barcelona had not conceded a goal in seven matches and scored 18.

Although PSG was missing top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic because of a heel injury, the forward line of Brazilian Lucas, Uruguayan Edinson Cavani and Argentinian Javier Pastore finally looked like a combination worth its hefty price tag.

"Perhaps we were too reliant on Ibra," Blanc said. "It's a good thing for the team that they played very well without him."

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Pastore, in particular, was in inspired form with his elegant runs, lightning-quick feet and wonderfully weighted passes.

"When he's confident like tonight, he's capable of great performances," Blanc said.

From the home side's second free kick of the game, Pastore curled the ball into the box and Luiz, showing great dexterity to control it with his right, switched feet before planting a low shot past goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

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PSG's celebrations were cut short, though, as Messi swapped passes with Iniesta and slotted a clinical shot past goalie Salvatore Sirigu. It was his 402nd career goal and 68th in the Champions League — putting him in a tie with Cristiano Ronaldo at three behind all-time leading scorer Raul Gonzalez.

With Messi causing panic every time he got the near the ball, PSG's defense left more space for Neymar. He went close to capitalizing off a looped pass over the top from Messi, but shot just over. Ter Stegen was at fault for the second PSG goal when he badly misjudged Motta's corner from the right, and Verratti ended his PSG goal drought in his 62nd appearance.

Pastore created PSG's third goal with his slick pass behind exposed left back Jordi Alba, with Gregory van der Wiel's firmly struck cross emphatically finished by Matuidi. Again, though, PSG could not focus after celebrating and Neymar caught the defense cold with a subtle shot from 12 yards out that went in off the post.

Back came PSG, though, as Pastore galloped into the penalty area with unpredictable changes of direction, but shot too close to Ter Stegen. Blanc hugged Pastore when he came off, and the relief was evident as the players raised their arms at the final whistle.

The fact Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez came off the bench to set a new Champions League record with his 143rd appearance — one more than Raul — went almost unnoticed.

PSG leads the group with four points, followed by Barcelona on three. Ajax and APOEL drew 1-1 in the other Group F game.