[UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE]By Lionel Messi's standards, he'd gotten off to a slow start in 2012. He had six goals in 11 games heading into Tuesday's Champions League match at Bayer Leverkusen. But he showed why he's won the Ballon d'Or as the best player in the world the last three years, setting up Barcelona's first goal and scoring the third in a 3-1 win that will ease the defending champion's worries about a tough round-of-16 series.
Chilean Alexis Sanchez had the first two goals before Messi scored the third after combining niftily with Dani Alves.
It was the first time Barca had won its first match in the knockout stage under Coach Pep Guardiola.
"It was important for us to win this match, because under Pep we have never won the first match in the round of 16," said Messi. "We knew it would be complicated to play against the Germans. It's always nice to score a goal, but the important thing was the result for the team."
Barca was looking for a strong effort after its 3-2 loss at Osasuna all but ended La Liga title race. It didn't start well at Leverkusen but got better as the game went.
"I think the second half was good, we used the space better after we took the lead," said Guardiola. "We tried to improve our game, we had a few chances in the first half, but perhaps the final pass was missing. We can be happy with the performance we put in today, we have given ourselves a good chance now for the return leg. We know that the Germans play a good long-ball game, they use their height and Leverkusen really came at us in the second half and we know we have to be careful in the second leg."
In Tuesday's other game, Lyon beat APOEL, 1-0, on a second-half goal by Alexandre Lacazette.