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Barcelona rides on Messi's treble

LIONEL Messi scored three times as Barcelona beat Atletico Madrid 3-1 and took a firm step towards securing a place in the Cope del Rey quarterfinals on Tuesday.

Messi, watched by his Argentina coach Diego Maradona at Atletico's Vicente Calderon Stadium, received an ovation from spectators when he was substituted moments after completing his hat-trick.

Messi described the applause from the opposing fans as "very special."

"It's something you can't explain. It's really lovely for any player," Messi said.

The second leg of the fifth-round match will be next Wednesday at Camp Nou where Barcelona will be expected to advance in a competition it has won a record 24 times, but not since 1998.

Messi scored in the 12th, 58th ?? from a penalty which led to the dismissal of home defender John Heitinga ?? and 80th minutes.

Atletico replied through substitute Tomas Ujfalusi in the 69th.

Barcelona's victory was its 21st in 26 games in all competitions this season. The Catalan team is 11 points clear in the league and has reached the Champions League knockout stage.

Atletico, which crashed 1-6 against Barcelona in the Spanish league at Camp Nou in October, lacked top striker Sergio Aguero and left back Antonio Lopez, both of whom were running high temperatures.


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