Feb. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Alexis Sanchez scored twice as Barcelona won 3-1 at Bayer Leverkusen to close on a Champions League quarterfinal place.
Lionel Messi, who was named soccer’s best player for the third straight year last month, got the other goal last night as defending champion Barcelona won its sixth consecutive away match in Europe’s elite club competition.
“They showed they are probably the best team in the world,” Leverkusen defender Vedran Corluka said in a televised interview. “We gave our best but we can’t say anything. They are a better team than us.”
Lyon beat APOEL Nicosia 1-0 on a goal by Alexandre Lacazette in last night’s other opening round of 16 game as the tournament resumed after a two-month break. Barcelona and APOEL will host the return matches in the two-game series on March 7.
Barcelona is seeking to win the continental championship for the fourth time in seven seasons. The Catalan club last failed to reach the quarterfinals in 2006-07.
“This result will give us a lot of confidence,” Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said on UEFA’s website. “We’ll be looking for another victory at home now to finish the tie off.”
Barcelona took the lead four minutes before half time at the Bay-Arena in Leverkusen, Germany. Messi looped a pass along the right side which Sanchez ran down and carried into the area before sending a shot through the legs of goalkeeper Bernd Leno.
Leverkusen scored in the 52nd minute when Michal Kadlec headed in Corluka’s cross to the far post, though Barcelona regained the lead three minutes later when Cesc Fabregas threaded a pass between two defenders to Sanchez, who went around Leno and slid the ball into the open net.
Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes tipped Gonzalo Castro’s shot onto the post, while Messi hit a post at the other end. Valdes also stopped Stefan Kiessling’s header, before Leno dived to knock away Sanchez’s goal-bound header and deny the Chilean international a hat trick.
Messi made it 3-1 in the 88th minute when he charged into the area to volley in Dani Alves’s cross after releasing the defender down the right side with a pass.
In France, Lyon took the lead in the 58th minute after controlling most of the play against APOEL, the first team from Cyprus to reach the knockout stage.
Lacazette took a pass from Lyon captain Cris on the left side of the area, cut toward the middle and fired a shot which deflected off defender Paulo Jorge and looped over goalkeeper Dionisios Chiotis.
APOEL didn’t get its first attempt at goal until the 88th minute as substitute Gustavo Manduca cut in from the right side and fired a shot which Hugo Lloris tipped over the crossbar.
“The game went as we expected,” Lyon coach Remi Garde said on UEFA’s website. “We would have like to score more goals, hopefully we won’t regret that in the second leg.”
Seven-time European champion AC Milan hosts Arsenal and two-time winner Benfica visits Zenit St. Petersburg tonight.
--Editors: Dan Baynes, Dex McLuskey
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