BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Neymar scored twice and Luis Suarez added another goal as Barcelona eased to a 3-0 win over BATE Borisov and moved closer to qualifying for the Champions League knockout rounds on Wednesday.
While the injured Lionel Messi watched from the Camp Nou stands, Neymar converted a penalty on the half-hour mark.
Suarez scored in the 60th minute before setting up Neymar to cap the victory in the 83rd.
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Since Messi tore a left-knee ligament on Sept. 26, Neymar and Suarez have combined for 17 of Barcelona’s 20 goals to keep them on pace in Europe and level on points with Spanish league leader Real Madrid.
”The team is playing well, but we will always miss Messi,” coach Luis Enrique acknowledged. ”That said, this team has other resources. I was happy with what I saw.”
Barcelona leads Group E with 10 points, with two matches remaining.
Roma beat Bayer Leverkusen 3-2 in the other group match to move into second with five points. Leverkusen has four points and BATE three.
As expected, Barcelona dominated possession and weaved pass after pass in and out of BATE’s area as the mesmerized visitors just tried to keep up.
The only negative for Barcelona on an otherwise placid night was the loss of midfielder Ivan Rakitic, who scored both goals in Barcelona’s win at BATE in their last match. Rakitic was replaced by Munir El Haddadi in the 20th minute after injuring a muscle in his right leg. Barcelona said he will miss its Liga match against Villarreal on Sunday.
A clumsy tackle by Thomas Vermaelen gave the Belarus side its sole opportunity with a free kick just outside the area that Igor Stasevich used to draw a diving save from goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the 17th.
El Haddadi made an immediate impact with a rising strike from a Neymar pass that forced goalie Sergei Chernik to push the ball over the bar. Moments later, he set up Barcelona’s opener by dribbling past Filip Mladenovic, who then rushed back and fouled the forward in the area.
Neymar stepped up and slotted in the spot kick for his first goal in the Champions League this campaign.
Chernik closed on Suarez to block his point-blank effort shortly after halftime, but he could do nothing to stop the Uruguay striker when he wrong-footed his marker with a deft control of Neymar’s pass and stabbed home his 12th goal in all competitions this season.
Suarez then crossed for Neymar to tap in his 11th goal of the season on the break.
”It was a good run for my third, but Luis Suarez was vital, he gave me a great ball,” Neymar said. ”We must remain relaxed, we’re doing a good job at this stage of the season and scoring goals. I’m in a good moment and hope to continue that way.”
Before kickoff, Camp Nou was once again the focal point for secessionists in the northeastern region of Catalonia who said they distributed 30,000 pro-independence flags for like-minded fans.
The latest display of separatist sentiment comes after UEFA twice fined Barcelona for the politically-charged flags in recent months, and as tension rise between Spain’s central government and regional lawmakers, who want the region to break away.
The stands bristled with the pro-independence flags and a collective shout for ”Independence” was mixed with loud jeers during the Champions League anthem before the match in response to the UEFA fines. The club also unfurled a massive banner reading ”Respect” along with the Barcelona emblem.
(This story has been corrected to show that Roma beat Bayer Leverkusen 3-2, and not 2-0)