Minsk, Belarus, Sept 29: Lionel Messi scored once in each half as Barcelona routed BATE Borisov 5-0 in the Champions League on Wednesday for the defending champions' first victory in Group H.
With his double, Messi joined Laszlo Kubala as Barcelona's second all-time leading scorer with 194 goals.
“I am very happy to have equaled a man who was so important in the history of this club,” Messi said. “I knew that I could match Kubala, but I didn't go out tonight thinking about scoring goals, nothing of the sort, just playing like always.”
Barcelona took advantage of the hosts' defensive errors to cruise to a comfortable win.
An own goal by BATE midfielder Aleksandr Volodko put Barcelona ahead before Pedro Rodriguez and Messi sent the Spanish giants into halftime with a 3-0 lead.
Messi got his second just after the restart with a cracking strike from inside the area, and David Villa capped the win in the 90th.
The 24-year-old Messi, now in his eighth season, has the chance to surpass Kubala on Sunday at Sporting Gijon in the Spanish league. Kubala played for Barca for a decade from 1951.
Barcelona's top scorer Cesar Rodriguez scored 235 goals from 1942-55. If Messi keeps scoring at the same rate he did last season, he could pass that mark before this campaign is over.
“(Messi) has equaled a legendary player for Barcelona, and he has done it at just 24 years old. I can't say anything more, only congratulate him,” Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said. “The only way that he won't catch Cesar is if he leaves.”
Barcelona has four points, even with AC Milan after the Italians beat Viktoria Plzen 2-0.
BATE and Viktoria Plzen were left with one point each.
In a mild surprise, Guardiola left center back Gerard Pique on the bench again, despite him returning from injury as a substitute at the weekend, and selected midfielder Javier Mascherano in the center of defense with Carles Puyol.
Seydou Keita also got the nod over Sergio Busquets in midfield, while Thiago Alcantara started in place of Cesc Fabregas.
Mateja Kezman spearheaded a BATE attack that was without injured striker Vitali Rodionov, but the former Chelsea player rarely received the ball as Barcelona dominated possession from the outset.
BATE put 10 men behind the ball and for the first 15 minutes succeeded in limiting the visitors to a long strike by Thiago and a Messi free kick.
With its short passing game frustrated, Barcelona broke through BATE's defense by uncharacteristically going over the top.
Volodko tried to clear Alves' cross for Messi but ended up sending the ball into his own net to give the visitors the lead in the 19th.
Three minutes later, Villa followed Alves' example and picked out Pedro at the far post for the Spain forward to guide his header over goalkeeper Aleksandr Gutor to double Barcelona's advantage.
“We faced a team that played very far back in defense, and we were lucky enough to score early,” Guardiola said. “I didn't expect they would play so defensively. It was one of those games that if you don't score early, you get nervous.”
A lapse in defense almost let BATE pull one back, but Puyol scrambled to block Volodko's close-range strike before Villa drew a diving save from Gutor.
But an error by the BATE keeper put the result beyond doubt in the 38th when Gutor let Pedro's tame cross slip through his hands for Messi to tap across the goalline.
Ten minutes after halftime Messi scored his second with a rising left-footed shot after Alves slid him the ball inside the area for his eighth goal in his last four matches and 14th goal in 10 games overall this season.
The two-time Ballon D'Or winner came close to setting up another Barcelona goal with a perfectly placed diagonal pass to Eric Abidal, only to see Gutor block his low strike.
Villa slotted home his late goal after a counterattack, with the BATE defense in tatters.
“We've played the best team in the world,” BATE coach Viktor Goncharenko said. “We failed to defend strong or attack hard. The game was mostly in our box and we couldn't change this situation. But it was a helpful experience.” AP