From Lionel, with love

Barcelona forward Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring a goal Tuesday against Spartak. With 56 Champions League goals, Messi is now level in second place in the all-time list with Ruud Van Nisterooy, trailing only Raul Gonzalez (71)

MOSCOW, Russia   ●    Lionel Messi scored his ninth double of the campaign as Barcelona won 3-0 at Spartak Moscow on Tuesday to reach the knockout stage of the Champions League for the ninth straight season.

With 56 Champions League goals, Messi is now level in second place in the all-time list with Ruud Van Nisterooy, trailing only Raul Gonzalez (71).

Messi has 80 goals for club and country in 2012 — 68 for Barcelona and 12 for Argentina — to sit five behind the single-year record set by Gerd Mueller for Bayern Munich and Germany in 1972.

Defender Daniel Alves put Barcelona ahead with a low right-footed shot in the 16th minute. Messi scored from a rebound in the 27th minute, then rounded goalkeeper Andriy Dikan following a pass by Pedro Rodriguez 12 minutes later before shooting into an empty net for his 24th goal this season.

It was the Argentina striker’s second double against Spartak after scoring two late goals to secure Barcelona’s 3-2 come-from-behind victory in the group stage opener in September.

“Spartak played a good game at Camp Nou. But today it was about the strength of our players, not Spartak’s weakness,” Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova said.

Barcelona tops Group G with 12 points. Spartak is last with three points.

After Daniel Alves had given Barcelona the lead, Spartak defender Marek Suchy almost equalized in the 20th when he shot over the crossbar from 10 metres from Emmanuel Emenike’s pass from the right.

Seven minutes later, Barca led 2-0 from midfielder Andres Iniesta’s shot that was saved by Dikan, allowing Messi to send a low bouncing shot into the corner of the net.

It was 3-0 by the 39th minute after a superb pass from Pedro set Messi free.

Messi came close to scoring twice more but was foiled by Dikan’s 57th-minute save before defender Marek Sichy ensured the Argentine couldn’t slot the ball into an otherwise empty net.

“Messi is a perfect player, maybe the best player in the world right now,” Spartak coach Unai Emery said. “We played well in the first half and had chances, but it was Barcelona which capitalized on their chances. We tried to take on Barcelona on the pitch but we failed on the scoreboard.”

Benfica 2, Celtic 1
The club that joins Barcelona in the Champions League knockout stage from Group G will be decided in two weeks after Benfica beat Celtic 2-1 on Tuesday.

The result left the Portuguese and Scottish clubs level on seven points.

The deciding group matches on Dec. 5 have Benfica travelling to Barcelona and Celtic hosting Spartak.

Argentine defender Ezequiel Garay volleyed home in the 71st minute to give Benfica the win it needed to stay in the tournament following a 32nd-minute equalizer from Giorgos Samaras.

Ola John put Benfica ahead in the seventh minute.

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