PSV Eindhoven did all it could to stifle Lionel Messi. It wasn't enough.
Messi scored one goal after a trademark dribble and set up another from a free kick as Barcelona beat PSV 2-1 this morning to secure top spot in Champions League Group B with one match left to play.
"He's a player you almost can't stop," said PSV coach Mark van Bommel. "You have to do everything you can — and we did that today — to block his shots. But sometimes it doesn't work and that has to do with the quality of the player. That's why he's the best in the world."
Barcelona was already qualified for the next round before kicking off at PSV Stadium and was uncharacteristically scrappy at times until a moment of Messi magic finally gave his team the lead in the 61st minute.
The Argentina star scored his 106th Champions League goal by dribbling through a group of PSV defenders and unleashing a powerful shot past Jeroen Zoet.
He then turned supplier for Barcelona's second, taking a free kick that Gerard Pique deflected past Zoet.
In the group's other match, substitute Christian Eriksen scored as Tottenham beat Inter Milan 1-0 at Wembley and those teams will fight for second place in the last round. Tottenham faces Barcelona in its last group match while Inter hosts PSV.
Messi has now scored 10 goals in five Champions League matches against Dutch opponents, including his hat trick against PSV in their Group B opener this season.
But Barcelona will have to raise its game if it is to win back the Champions League trophy that was won by archrival Real Madrid for the last three seasons.
PSV effectively countered Barcelona's threat for much of the first half by pressing hard and denying Messi and his team mates time to settle, forcing mistakes.
"It is our style of play that we take a lot of risks," said Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde. "There are a lot of teams now that try to put us under pressure. If we make mistakes in our midfield it is tough, but it is part of our risky style."
PSV unlucky not to go into the break at least one goal in front after twice hitting the frame of the goal.
Gaston Pereiro hit the post after 16 minutes and Luuk de Jong saw his looping header rebound off the crossbar shortly before halftime.
De Jong grabbed a consolation goal for the home fans with an 83rd-minute header to set up a frenetic late assault, but despite pouring forward in the closing minutes PSV could not find an equalizer.
"We had problems with De Jong, he is tough to defend," Valverde said. "PSV began to believe they had a chance and play long balls, but in the end we got the result we came here for."
PSV coach Mark van Bommel — himself a Champions League winner with Barcelona in his playing days — started with his regular lineup that has won all 13 of its Dutch Eredivisie matches this season but failed to register a victory in the Champions League. The team has just one point from five matches and is guaranteed to finish bottom of the group.
Barcelona was without the injured Luis Suarez, with Ousmane Dembele taking his place. Dembele scored a goal as Barcelona beat PSV at Camp Nou in their first Group B match this season, but could not add to his tally in Eindhoven.
Valverde started Clement Lenglet in defense instead of Samuel Umtiti, who returned to play at the weekend for the first time since the end of September due to a left knee injury, but felt discomfort in the knee in training Tuesday.
The missing players may have contributed to the sometimes disjointed performance.
Messi made sure Barcelona won anyway.