Neymar leads Barça rout of Celtic

Brazilian forward scores three as Catalans, Real and Atlético top Champions League groups

Barcelona forward Neymar kisses the match ball after his hat-trick against Celtic.
Barcelona forward Neymar kisses the match ball after his hat-trick against Celtic. JOSEP LAGO (AFP)

"This may have been close to our best match in the past four months," Gerardo Martino said after Barcelona thrashed Celtic 6-1 at Camp Nou to secure top spot in Group H ahead of AC Milan, which joined the Liga champion in the knockout stages of the competition thanks to a 0-0 tie with Ajax at the San Siro.

Celtic was already out of contention, having picked up just one win in the group, and did not even have a hope of finishing third and qualifying for the Europa League going into the match. However, Neil Lennon was far from amused by what he described as a "half-hearted" performance by his team: "I cannot take any consolation from our performance. Barcelona were fantastic but we were very poor and nowhere near our previous performances against Barcelona. For some of the players, that was an unacceptable performance," the Northern Irishman said.

Neymar, who has been growing into his Leo Messi-replacement role in Barça's attack, helped himself to a hat-trick and also teed one up for Pedro with a pinpoint pass. Gerard Piqué opened the scoring, thumping home in ungainly fashion when a loose ball found his feet in the area. Young winger Cristian Tello completed a rout Celtic will be happy to forget.

Top spot of course means that Barcelona will avoid the other group winners in Monday's draw for the last 16. The Catalan club and its Madrid-based Liga rivals Atlético and Real are all in the pot of seeds, and will therefore each be drawn against one of Bayer Leverkusen, Galatasaray, Olympiacos, Manchester City, Schalke 04, Arsenal, Zenit St Petersburg, or AC Milan. Teams from the same group cannot face each other, thus Barça will avoid Milan, Atlético will not have to travel to Russia, as it seems to do whenever it features in Europe, and Real will avoid Galatasaray.

Celtic coach Neil Lennon: “I cannot take any consolation from our performance”

The Turkish side eventually won through to the knockout phase a day later than it should have after a snow storm halted play at theTürk Telekom Arena on Tuesday night. With the scores level at 0-0, the game was restarted on 32 minutes the following day and a late Wesley Sneijder goal was sufficient to condemn Juventus to the Europa League.

Real had assured itself top spot in the same group a fixture earlier but still rolled out its full armory in Copenhagen against a well-organized side fighting for the Europea League place. Cristiano Ronaldo made a scoring return to the team after a two-week injury layoff, becoming the first player in history to score nine goals in the Champions League group stage. Luka Modric scored a sumptuous opener as Real eased to a 2-0 win in the Parken Stadion, where Copenhagen had never lost a group stage match.

Atlético shared Real's status as group winner before welcoming Porto to the Calderón, but the home side took no chances against a visitor in need of three points to go through to the next round. Although Diego Simeone fielded a less-experienced side than he would have done if qualification had been hanging in the balance, Atlético has a strong squad and the Argentinean was able to blend some youthful exuberance with a few older heads.

Raúl García continued his remarkable scoring form to take him to within two of his most prolific season tally, while Diego Costa inevitably added the second for his 19th in 21 games this season.

Both Real and Atlético qualified with the highest points total in the group stage, racking up 16 apiece over six matches.

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS