The Catalan giants were rarely pushed to their limits in this Group H tie, running out comfortable winners courtesy of a treble from the Argentine and a Cesc Fabregas headerPep Guardiola's 200th match in charge of Barcelona was celebrated in emphatic style with a 4-0 win over Viktoria Plzen in Prague on Tuesday evening, as the European champions qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League.
Two first-half goals from Lionel Messi gave the Catalan giants a comfortable lead, with the dismissal of Plzen's Marian Cisovsky aiding their cause. Once Plzen went down to 10 men it became less a case of whether Barca would win but more of how many they would win by, and Messi duly completed his hat-trick, with Cesc Fabregas also finding the net.
Plzen started the game full of running and tried to take the game to their illustrious opposition. Barcelona seemed content to let the home side dictate the tempo in the opening exchanges, only really starting to move the ball well after 10 minutes of play.
Milan Petrzela burst through a static Barca back line only to be thwarted by Victor Valdes, who produced a strong left-handed save to stop the hosts from taking a surprise lead. Daniel Kolar then wasted another chance, blazing a half-volley high and wide after being found in space inside the box.
However, Barca earned a spot-kick 10 minutes later after Messi's legs were swept from beneath him by Cisovsky after the Argentine had jinked his way into the area. Cisovsky saw red for the foul, before Messi confidently dispatched the penalty low to Roman Pavlik's right.
That goal was the Argentine's 200th for the club following his sensational exploits in the past few seasons, and he was far from finished for the evening.
Following the sending off the atmosphere in the Synot Tip Arena quickly grew hostile, with every Barcelona touch being greeted with jeers by the home fans. The away side began to toy with their opponents, exploiting the gaps created by Cisovsky's dismissal.
After threatening to score a second, Messi then played a delightful one-two with Adriano, before sliding his finish past a despairing Pavlik in the Plzen goal.
The second half was exhibition-like at times, with Barca afforded so much space. Fabregas nearly added a third with a delicate chip that drifted just wide and then Messi forced a fantastic save from Pavlik from a free-kick.
Fabregas made it 3-0 on 71 minutes with a rare headed goal. It was difficult for the former Arsenal man to miss, such was the quality of Isaac Cuenca's cross from the right-hand side. Messi then completed his hat-trick, adding gloss to the scoreline with a well-taken finish after rounding Pavlik in the closing stages.
Barcelona advance to the knockout stages despite having two group games left to play. This will allow Guardiola to rest players when the group games recommence in February, and focus on domestic competitions. Plzen, meanwhile, now lie rock bottom of the group, with just one point, making it impossible for the Czech team to advance to the next stage.