Lionel Messi gave yet another sparkling Champions League recital when he netted a hat-trick for Barcelona in a crushing 4-0 win at home to Ajax Amsterdam in their Group H opener on Wednesday.
The Argentine World Player of the Year lit up the Nou Camp with a brilliant curling free kick in the 22nd minute, a trademark dash in from the right and clinical finish 10 minutes into the second half and a low shot into the corner from the edge of the area 15 minutes from time.
He is the first player to score four trebles in Europe's elite club competition and took his overall goals tally to 62 in 80 appearances, nine short of record scorer Raul of Real Madrid.
"It was important to start with a win, especially playing at home," Messi said in an interview with Spanish television broadcaster Canal Plus.
"We know how difficult these Champions League groups always are, he added. "In the second half we had the ball and controlled the match. We found it tough to pressure them initially because they were moving the ball well out from the back. But I think in general it was a great performance."
Defender Gerard Pique had netted Barca's third with a header from Neymar's centre in the 69th minute and goalkeeper Victor Valdes continued his fine run of form by saving Kolbeinn Sigthorsson's 77th-minute penalty.
It was a winning Champions League start for Barca's new coach Gerardo Martino but his side generally struggled to reproduce the scintillating play that has brought them two European crowns in the past five seasons.
However, with Messi on fire and Barca hosting an Ajax side lacking in real quality the outcome of the match was never in doubt.
Surprisingly, Wednesday's match was the first official meeting between the two continental heavyweights, who have each won four European titles.
A Johan Cruyff-inspired Ajax claimed three straight triumphs between 1971 and 1973 and another in 1995 in a side including current coach Frank de Boer, who later had a four-year stint at Barca.
Barca won their first European crown under coach Cruyff in 1992 and three more in 2006, 2009 and 2011.
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