With goals from Neymar and Suarez, Barcelona puts one foot in CL semis with 3-1 win in Paris



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PARIS — Lionel Messi set up Neymar's opener and Luis Suarez scored twice with fine solo runs to give Barcelona a 3-1 victory against a struggling Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday that left the four-time champion with one foot in the Champions League semifinals.

After Neymar slotted home in the 18th minute, Suarez ducked and weaved through the Paris defense, putting the ball through the legs of David Luiz, for his first goal in the 67th.

He ghosted past the PSG defender again 12 minutes later to score his second.

PSG pulled a goal back in the 82nd when Gregory van der Wiel's long-range effort deflected off Barcelona's Jeremy Mathieu.

Suspensions and injuries fatally weakened Paris in a demanding quarterfinal first-leg match. In attack, missed chances and sloppy control from Edinson Cavani made the absence of suspended striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic keenly felt.

In the evening's other match, Porto sprang a major surprise by beating Bayern Munich 3-1.

"When we play like that, it's tough to beat us," Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said. "3-0 would have been perfect."

"We are not going to make the error of thinking that this is over," he added.

Still, PSG's first European home defeat in 34 games leaves it with a seemingly impossible task when it travels to Barcelona for the return leg next Tuesday.

Barcelona failed to make the semifinals last season but looks almost certain to this time after this first win in France against a French team since 2001 and a controlled performance on a balmy Paris night that exposed a gulf between the two sides.

"We'll want to show another side of ourselves in Barcelona with a team that will be quite different," PSG coach Laurent Blanc said. "We didn't do much that was good."

Messi frequently dropped back to overwhelm the PSG midfield decimated by the absences of Marco Verratti (suspension) and Thiago Motta (injury).

PSG's makeshift midfield trio of Blaise Matuidi, Yohan Cabaye and Adrien Rabiot were playing together for the first time this season in the Champions League. And it showed.

Barcelona's opener started with Sergio Busquets, with the experience of 63 Champions League matches under his belt, dispossessing 20-year-old Rabiot, making just his second start this season in the competition.

After a looping pass to Messi, the four-time world player of the year set off at speed toward the backpedalling PSG defense and then scythed through it with a neat pass to Neymar.

The Brazil international made no mistake, with a right-footed shot past Salvatore Sirigu.

"When one team makes the other team run and go backward, they have the advantage," Blanc noted.

Paris squandered chances, with Cavani missing a sitter in the 28th minute.

After a Barcelona corner, Matuidi broke at pace down the left and fed Ezequiel Lavezzi. The zippy Argentine checked, throwing off his marker, and found Cavani in acres of space alone in the middle.

However, the Uruguayan's goalscoring instincts deserted him, with poor control and hesitation allowing defender Javier Mascherano to slide in.

PSG will be hoping that Ibrahimovic provides that missing bite in attack next week on his return from a one-match ban.

At the other end, another Uruguayan striker, Suarez, gave a textbook demonstration of how it's done, exploiting a PSG defense weakened by an injury after just 20 minutes to Thiago Silva, who motioned that he needed to come off.

"I said to myself that the evening wasn't starting well and that it was going to be a difficult night," Blanc said.

That forced him to bring Luiz off the bench, even though the Brazil defender had barely recovered from a hamstring injury. Luiz struggled against Suarez's pace and guile.

Paris has little time or breathing space to patch itself up. Blanc's side is locked in a tight French league title battle, and must travel south to Nice on Saturday, before going to Barcelona.

Having fallen at the quarterfinal stage in the last two seasons, a PSG squad that has benefited from massive investment from Qatar still doesn't look ready for the next level and a place in the semifinals of soccer's biggest club competition.

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