Messi fires Barcelona into UCL Knockout Stage, Liverpool, Chelsea Held To Draws

Lionel Messi marked his 700th game for Barcelona with a goal and two assists in a 3-1 win over Borussia Dortmund that sent his team into the knockout rounds of the Champions League on Wednesday.

But Liverpool, the competition’s defending champion, could not replicate that feat as it struggled once again against Napoli.

The clubs have played four times in the last 13 months, with Napoli winning two of those games. This time, Dejan Lovren’s header rescued a 1-1 draw for Liverpool, which must try again to qualify for the knockout stages against Salzburg on Dec. 10.

Chelsea also will have to wait for qualification after a strange goal — a cross that found the net at the back post — saw it draw, 2-2 at home against Valencia, but Leipzig qualified for the knockouts for the first time as the teenage striker Erling Haaland scored again.

At Barcelona, a victory against Dortmund restored some welcome swagger. For the team that leads La Liga despite rarely seeming to reach top gear, Barcelona’s 3-1 win finally showcased the full breadth of its talent and creativity. 

Messi and Luis Suarez combined for the first two goals: First Messi assisted, then the Uruguayan returned the favor. 

Another Messi assist set up Antoine Griezmann for Barcelona’s third goal.

For Dortmund, it was a third Champions League game without a win, and perhaps a step closer to the exit for Manager Lucian Favre. 

He and his players were already targets for fans’ anger after Friday’s 3-3 draw with Paderborn in the Bundesliga.

Earlier, Lautaro Martinez scored twice as Inter Milan beat Slavia Prague, 3-1. Inter can still qualify from Group F, but Slavia is out.

At Anfield, Liverpool endured more frustration against Napoli. Dries Mertens scored from a long pass in the 21st minute before Lovren’s header from a corner tied the score. 

The tie ended a seven-game winning streak for Liverpool in all competitions, a source of frustration for a team with a packed schedule ahead.

“We couldn’t put it to bed tonight but it’s the Champions League, it’s difficult,” the Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson said. “It’s always difficult, there are some really good teams so we have to stay positive.”

In the other Group E game, Haaland became the first teenager to score in five consecutive Champions League games as Salzburg beat Genk, 4-1. 

Haaland, a 19-year-old Norwegian, came off the bench to get one assist and score Salzburg’s fourth goal.

Salzburg can qualify for the knockout rounds if it beats Liverpool in the teams’ final group-stage game.

At Chelsea, the Blues could have gone through with a win over Valencia, but drew and now must wait until their final group game against Lille.

Valencia missed a series of chances, including a penalty, before Daniel Wass scored a freak goal from a cross in the 82nd minute to snatch a point for Valencia.

“We created a lot, both teams; I don’t know how many goals there could have been in that game,” Chelsea Manager Frank Lampard said. “We can’t turn away from the fact that they had a lot of clear chances. They were arriving in our box far too much.”

Ajax beat last-place Lille, 2-0, to remain atop Group H and now only needs to avoid defeat against Valencia on Dec. 10 to continue a Champions League campaign that began in the qualifying rounds.

In Germany, Leipzig’s fans turned up for a game against Benfica expecting to see their team qualify for the knockout stages for the first time. 

They got that in the end, but only after an improbable comeback.

Benfica faced elimination if it didn’t win and seized on Leipzig defensive errors to score two goals. But Leipzig mounted an extraordinary late comeback to grab the point it needed to qualify. 

Emil Forsberg made it 2-1 with a 90th-minute penalty and then leveled the score in the sixth minute of added time with a header.

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