BARCELONA, May 2 — Lionel Messi put Barcelona on the verge of the Champions League final by scoring twice in a 3-0 home win over Liverpool in the first leg of their last-four clash yesterday, taking his goal tally for the Catalans to a remarkable 600 in the process.
Former Liverpool striker Luis Suarez reminded the visitors of his clinical finishing by opening the scoring in the 26th minute of a tense and finely-balanced first half at the Nou Camp, darting between two Liverpool defenders to divert Jordi Alba's cross into the net.
Barca captain Messi scored the all-important second goal of the night in the 75th minute, chesting the ball down on the rebound and dribbling it over the line after Suarez had hammered the crossbar with a shot with his knee.
The Argentine then added to Barca's already huge advantage to take into next Tuesday's second leg at Anfield by scoring his milestone goal in style, smashing into the top corner with a sizzling free kick in the 82nd minute.
Liverpool, who were beaten 3-1 in last year's final by Real Madrid, played far better than the heavy scoreline suggests, carving out a number of clear chances but spurning them all.
Barca's South American duo of Suarez and Messi showed little mercy whenever they sniffed a chance out, however, and condemned Juergen Klopp's side to their first defeat in any competition since January with some ruthless finishing.
Suarez spared little thought for his eventful three-and-a-half year stay on Merseyside, as he celebrated his opening strike with relish, racing behind the goal and wagging his finger at the delighted Barca fans.
Sadio Mane squandered a glorious chance to level for the Premier League side later in the first half but scooped the ball over the bar, while James Milner and Mohamed Salah were both denied by Barca's excellent Marc-Andre ter Stegen later on.
Klopp's side had done an impressive job of shackling Barca's all-time top scorer Messi, but there was little they could do when the Argentine pounced on the loose ball after Suarez had hit the crossbar, calmly doubling the home side's lead.
Messi sparked further celebrations at a packed Nou Camp with another outstanding free kick, yet the drama in this blockbuster European encounter was far from over.
Liverpool again went agonisingly close to snatching an away goal as Barca's Ivan Rakitic scrambled the ball off the goalline only to find the feet of Salah, who somehow smashed the rebound against the near post.
Barca could have seized an even bigger advantage in the tie with two golden chances as Liverpool tired that fell to substitute Ousmane Dembele, but the Frenchman missed the target the first time then shot straight into the hands of goalkeeper Alisson Becker. — Reuters