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Friday December 15th, 2017 9:06AM

Messi finally conquers Buffon as Barcelona beats Juve 3-0

By The Associated Press
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Lionel Messi finally added Italy great Gianluigi Buffon on his long, long list of vanquished goalkeepers.

Messi struck two shots past Buffon to lead Barcelona to a 3-0 victory over Juventus in their opening match of the Champions League on Tuesday.

Two of soccer's all-time best players, the 39-year-old Buffon had denied Messi a goal in their previous three meetings, including Juventus' 3-0 aggregate win in last season's quarterfinals.

But once he found room to work, Messi picked Buffon's Juventus apart - to take some revenge from last year's elimination and continue his superb start to the current season.

Messi grabbed his 95th and 96th goals in the Champions League, breaking the deadlock just before the end of the first half in the Group D game. After he had hit the post and played a part in Ivan Rakitic's second goal, Messi rounded off the commanding win.

"Tonight (Messi) did score (against Buffon) because we left him too much space," Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. "(Messi) plays perfectly well in tight spaces, but today he had more space, and I would even say that we made it easier for him, leaving him so open."

The first half was dull, apart from long-range attempts by Miralem Pjanic and Mattia De Sciglio for Juventus, until Messi struck just before the interval.

Ousmane Dembele, the most expensive signing in Barcelona's history, made his first start for the Catalan club. The 20-year-old France forward helped with a counterattack that caught the Juventus defense off-guard. Messi took the ball from Dembele, worked a quick one-two with Luis Suarez and then rolled a left-foot shot just inside the far post.

Messi helped make it 2-0 in the 56th when his dangerous low cross was cleared by substitute Stefano Sturaro back to Rakitic, who fired it home.

Messi got his second in the 69th when he took the ball on the right side and cut back to go around two defenders. He left Buffon with no chance against another left-foot strike that smacked into the lower corner of his net.

As Barcelona's coach Ernesto Valverde put it, "when Messi has the ball, anything can happen."

Barcelona defender Gerard Pique cleared a header by Medhi Benatia off the line in Juventus' best scoring opportunity in the 81st.

Barcelona's all-time top scorer, Messi has now scored eight goals in six games across all competitions this season.

In the other Group D match on Tuesday, Sporting Lisbon won 3-2 at Olympiakos.

Dembele, who debuted as a substitute in a 5-0 rout of Espanyol on Saturday, showed some of the speed that Barcelona wanted when it signed him, but otherwise had a subdued match.

"Dembele was fine. It's true that he has to adapt to the team, to learn some tactical questions," Valverde said. "We have to help him come along. He has just arrived, he is young, and he has a long career in front of him."

To pry Dembele away from Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona reinvested a large part of the world record 222 million euros ($262 million) it received from Paris Saint-Germain for Brazil star Neymar. It paid Dortmund 105 million euros ($124 million) in a deal that includes possible add-ons that could bring the total to 147 million euros (about $173 million).

Juventus was without injured defender Giorgio Chiellini, forward Mario Mandzukic and midfielder Sami Khedira. Juan Cuadrado was suspended. During the match, the Italian champions also lost De Sciglio to an injury in the first half, when he was replaced by Sturaro.

___

More AP Champions League coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/ChampionsLeague

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