Champions League - Barca edge five-goal thriller in Milan
Barcelona secured top spot in Group H of the Champions League after beating AC Milan 3-2 in a thrilling contest at the San Siro.
A Mark van Bommel own goal gave Barcelona the lead after 14th minutes, but six minutes later Zlatan Ibrahimovic levelled in his first appearance against the European champions since leaving the Camp Nou in 2010 following to the breakdown of his relationship with Pep Guardiola.
Lionel Messi put Barca back in front before half-time with a twice taken penalty after an incident that should have seen Alberto Aquilani dismissed for Milan. Amazingly it was also Messi's first ever competitive goal against Italian opposition.
However, less than 10 minutes after the restart a stunning individual effort from Kevin-Prince Boateng levelled matters again, but Messi slipped in Xavi for what ultimately proved to be the winner in the 63rd minute.
With both teams already ensured qualification to the knock-out stage some predicted that this match might lack an edge, but a blistering first-half dispelled all of those doubts.
A fizzing atmosphere in the stands was matched by a bright start from the hosts but Barcelona soon grabbed the initiative and took the lead in the 14th minute.
The opener came about when Thiago Alcantara did superbly well to chase down his own header after Gianluca Zambrotta was caught napping; he checked the ball back to Messi who put a wonderful ball over the defence and into the stride of the onrushing Seydou Keita. The Mali midfielder then put in a low cross that was impossible to defend and Van Bommel bundled the ball into his own net with Xavi on hand to tap it in behind him if needed.
Milan's keeper Christian Abbiati, who was in inspired form all night, then had to save from close range to deny Cesc Fabregas three minutes later, moments before Robinho somehow managed to blaze over from just three yards out after a low cross from Boateng at the other end.
Two minutes after that though, and Milan did indeed find an equaliser, with Ibrahimovic getting some level of revenge against his former employers as he swept home past Victor Valdes after Robinho rolled a ball into his path.
The relentless action continued and in the 22th minute it was Messi's turn to inexplicably miss from six yards out after he blasted Fabregas's check-back onto the crossbar.
Messi did put Barcelona in front again from the spot in the 31st minute, but in keeping with the match, there were many façades to the incident than just a mere goal.
The penalty was given when Xavi was bundled over by Aquilani when trying to finish off a one-two with Fabregas. The Spanish international went down easily but there was contact and Aquilani seemed destined to be sent-off for stopping a clear goal scoring chance, especially as he had already been booked.
However, the German referee Wolfgang Stark inexplicably booked Alessandro Nesta instead, as Milan somehow continued with 11 men on the pitch.
The drama was not finished there either, as Messi was booked and forced to retake the penalty after stopping just before initially rolling the ball in, but he smashed the second attempt into the corner of the net.
There were a couple of more chances at either end before the conclusion of the half, with both defences looking as vulnerable as their respective attacks looked dangerous, but Barcelona were always showing just a little more creative nous which made them they more threatening team.
Milan replaced Robinho with Pato at half-time but when they equalised in the 54th minute the goal did come against the run of play.
It was a wonderful piece of individual brilliance that restored parity though as Boateng put his foot up high to control the ball on the edge of the box and then in one movement produced a little drag heel to glide past Eric Abidal before firing a shot into the corner of the net at the near post. Valdes should have done better in attempting to save the shot but it was still super quality from the former Portsmouth man.
However, Barcelona always looked like they could move up an extra gear if required and when they went in front for the third time, it really did seem to finally kill off Milan.
The goal came in the 63rd minute and it was another gem, with Messi completely flat-footing the Milan defence with one killer pass that found the onrushing Xavi who then calmly placed it past Abbiati.
With plenty of time still on the clock, there was hope that Milan could muster up another stirring comeback but they did not have it in them this time, as Barcelona mixed dominant passing with spoiling time-wasting tactics that were just on the right side of legal to see the game out without any drama.
Both sides showed that they will be formidable opponents come the knock-out stage but the fact that keeper Abbiati was arguably Milan's best player, proves that Barcelona deserved their win and the defending champions again look the side to beat in this season's competition.