Barcelona ride on Sanchez brace

Spanish defending champions take 3-1 lead over Bayer Leverkusen in first leg

Two goals by Alexis Sanchez -- his first in the Champions League -- led Barcelona to a 3-1 first-leg win at Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday to put the holders in the driving seat in their round-of-16 tie.

Strike one: Alexis Sanchez scores past Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Bernd Leno in the Champions League last-16 match on Tuesday. AFP

Barca, who are now unbeaten in 13 Champions League games and have scored in 28 consecutive matches in the competition, are trying to lift the trophy for the third time in four years.

While Chile forward Alexis struck twice, it was Lionel Messi who once again stole the show with another sublime exhibition of ball skills capped by a late third goal from the World Player of the Year. “We are very satisfied with the result because scoring three goals away is very important,” said Barca coach Pep Guardiola.

The visitors grabbed the lead in the 41st minute after a brilliant left-footed flick by Messi sent Alexis racing through on goal.

Michal Kadlec equalised in the 52nd minute but the 23-year-old Chilean made it 2-1 three minutes later.

Messi completed the win, starting an 88th-minute move that also involved Dani Alves and finishing it with a volley at the far post as Barca avenged their 2001 defeat by Leverkusen, the last German club to beat them.

Asked whether he was planning to rest Messi, who has now scored a remarkable 25 goals in his last 24 Champions League matches, Guardiola replied: “Why? People want to see players like him.

“His life is football. He doesn’t care. He’s just happy when he plays. For us it’s very important when he plays.”

Leverkusen, without injured playmaker Michael Ballack, knew they would have to work hard and chase the Spaniards for the ball and with 80 percent possession in the first half Barca set the tone.

The Germans managed to keep the scoring chances to a minimum until Messi lifted the ball over Leverkusen’s back line and Alexis ran on to beat keeper Bernd Leno.

Leverkusen perked up in the second half and Kadlec gave them hope when he climbed high to head in at the far post after right back Vedran Corluka crossed from the byline.
Alexis then scored from a tight angle after dribbling round Leno before Gonzalo Castro’s low drive was expertly tipped on to the post by Barca keeper Victor Valdes who followed up by stopping a diving header from Stefan Kiessling.

Leverkusen tried hard to force a second equaliser that would have kept the tie alive for the return leg in Spain on March 7 but Argentina forward Messi, who hit the woodwork earlier, put the game beyond the home team with two minutes left.

Lyon win

Olympique Lyon laboured against a resolute APOEL Nicosia before a second-half goal from Alexandre Lacazette earned them a 1-0 home win in their first leg match.

France under-21 striker Lacazette netted his maiden Champions League goal in the 58th minute thanks partly to a deflection as Lyon gained a victory they just about deserved.

Lyon, who will travel to Cyprus for the second leg on march 7, could have gone ahead early on but were denied a possible penalty in the third minute after Ederson appeared to have been brought down by goalkeeper Dionisios Chiotis in the box. APOEL, who qualified for the last 16 by topping a group featuring Zenit St Petersburg, Shakhtar Donetsk and Porto, had little to show for themselves offensively throughout as they waited for the perfect counter-attack that never materialised.

The hosts piled on the pressure in the first half but APOEL held on thanks to their stout defence. The second half started like the first one ended, with Lyon pushing hard for the opener. Lacazette finally broke the deadlock when his curled shot took a deflection off an APOEL defender into the far top corner. Jimmy Briand, who replaced Lacazette right after his goal, sent over a perfect cross but Ederson’s header went just wide as Lyon missed out a golden opportunity to double the tally.

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