Panathinaikos unable to cope with the brilliance of Barcelona

BARCELONA (Reuters) – Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o scored a stunning hat trick in a 5-0 demolition of Panathinaikos as the Catalans marched into the last 16 of the Champions League on Wednesday night. The Greeks were torn apart as Barca raced into a 4-0 lead in a whirlwind first half in the Group C match at the Nou Camp, with Dutchman Mark van Bommel scoring inside the first minute. Eto’o grabbed the first of his three goals with a fine header, added the finishing touch to a quicksilver passing move for his second and completed his hat trick with a delightful curling lob just after the hour. Barcelona lead the group with 10 points from four matches while Panathinaikos, Udinese and Werder Bremen are locked on four apiece. Udinese and Bremen could finish level with Barca, but the Primera Liga side’s superior head-to-head record means they cannot finish lower than second place. «The early goal certainly settled the team and the players went on to enjoy themselves and so did the fans,» Barca coach Frank Rijkaard said. «Everything stems from having the right mentality and when you play well and get good results then you become more confident.» Rijkaard’s side got off to a dream start when midfielder van Bommel put them ahead with just 40 seconds on the clock. The Dutchman turned and raced on to a sharp through-pass from Iniesta, saw keeper Mario Galinovic off his line and lofted the ball into the net. Argentine youngster Lionel Messi almost added another three minutes later, but this time Galinovic was able to deny him as he got a hand to his low shot. The chances came thick and fast with Galinovic saving an Eto’o drive in the next attack and Messi having a shot cleared off the line soon after. It came as little surprise when Eto’o took advantage of some slack defending to make it 2-0 when he directed a clever header past Galinovic after Iniesta picked him out with a neat cross. Panathinaikos was unable to cope with the pinpoint passing of Iniesta and the pacy running of Messi and the 18-year-old Argentine scored his first goal in Europe, cashing in on a catalog of errors from the Panthinaikos defense to poke home from close range. Messi was heavily involved for Barca’s fourth, speeding down the right before squaring the ball to Ronaldinho on the edge of the area. The Brazilian’s subtle pass found Eto’o who drilled a shot past a demoralized Galinovic. Panathinaikos created just one chance in the first half when Anthony Seric crossed to Flavio Conceicao, but the Brazilian’s close-range shot was blocked by the alert Victor Valdes. Barca eased up in the second half but Eto’o still managed to complete his hat trick, curling a stunning shot high over Galinovic after another fluent passing move. «Things went very well for us,» said Barcelona midfielder Iniesta. «We are certainly playing very well and with qualification now under our belt we can look forward to the rest of the matches with a different frame of mind.»

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