By Andreas Vou
APOEL were handed a masterclass by Lionel Messi, who scored a record-breaking hat-trick at the GSP Stadium on Tuesday night as Barcelona ran out 4-0 winners in Nicosia on Matchday Five of the Champions League.
The Cypriots set out to frustrate their opponents as they had done in their previous meeting in Barcelona in September where they narrowly lost out by a single goal. This time, however, the Catalans played at a much higher tempo which APOEL were unable to cope with.
Despite limiting Luis Enrique’s team to very little in the opening third of the game, APOEL went a goal down on 27 minutes after a wonderful piece of skill and finish from Luis Suarez who scored his first goal for the club since his big-money move from Liverpool in the summer.
“Obviously it’s important for a striker to be scoring goals even though the priority is that you are playing well for the team. But it feels good to get off the mark,” said the Uruguayan.
Speaking of APOEL, Suarez said: “We knew they would play with ten men behind the ball because that is the way they played at the Camp Nou but we played well in the first half, we took our chances and could have maybe gone in with an even bigger lead.”
Just before half-time, Barça doubled their lead through Messi. The Argentine superstar surpassed the all-time La Liga scoring tally on Saturday with a hat-trick over Sevilla and his goal on 38 minutes shattered another record. It was his 72nd goal in the Champions League, taking him one above former Real Madrid striker Raul.
“I am happy because it is something very nice to achieve in a competition as beautiful as this but, above all of this, were the three points,” said the 27-year-old.
Messi would go on to score two more in the second-half, to complete a rare right-footed hat-trick and further extend his new record.
In the APOEL goal was Urko Pardo, Messi’s former youth team-mate at Barcelona who was gracious in defeat after the game.
“Congrats Leo. I didn’t want it (the record) to happen tonight but you are too good. You are a star both on and off the field,” Urko wrote, along with a photo with the record-breaker on his official Twitter account.
APOEL manager Giorgos Donis criticised his team’s performance in the 1-0 defeat to Paris Saint-Germain earler this month but could not complain about his side’s display this time around, admitting that their opponents were a step above.
“We are talking about a team on another level. Even when you see these teams and players from up close, you realise that they play in an unbelievable way. It was a good experience for us, an experience always helps even when the result is bad because you face these players and that makes you better in the future.
“It is not easy to analyse such a game because we see that all teams that face Barcelona suffer what we did today.
“The Champions League matches cannot be compared with those of the league. We will take a look at our problems, we will rest and have a good game on Sunday and win,” the Greek boss told Cytavision.
Despite having not yet won a game in Group F, APOEL could still reach the knockout round of the Europa League should they defeat Ajax, who lie a point ahead of them in third place, when the two sides meet on December 10 in the Dutch capital.