Football: Messi helps Enrique to top start despite red card

Barcelona's coach Luis Enrique. Photo / AP
Barcelona's coach Luis Enrique. Photo / AP

Luis Enrique got off to a winning start as Barcelona manager as they shrugged off Javier Mascherano's first-half red card to beat Elche 3-0 thanks to two goals from Lionel Messi.

Messi put the disappointment of losing the World Cup final in his last competitive outing behind him to open the scoring yesterday, but Barca were rocked by Mascherano's dismissal for denying a clear goal-scoring opportunity moments later.

However, 18-year-old Munir El Haddadi made the game safe with a classy lofted finish on his debut a minute into the second half before Messi rounded off the scoring.

Two goals in Barca's final pre-season friendly romp over Mexican side Club Leon last week had been enough to earn Munir his senior debut in the absence of the injured Neymar and suspended Luis Suarez.

Barca's captain Andres Iniesta hit the bar from range as the hosts dominated possession without clearing too many clear-cut chances.

However, Elche were punished for giving away possession cheaply near their own area three minutes before halftime as Sergio Busquets played in Messi and he sidestepped two defenders before slotting home on his trusty left foot.

Minutes later, though, the complexion of the game appeared to have changed as Mascherano was shown a red card for clipping Garry Rodrigues as he galloped clear on goal. Instead, Barca were barely bothered by Elche's numerical advantage as Munir flicked home Ivan Rakitic's pass into the far corner a minute after the restart. Messi then put a seal on a comfortable three points for Barca as he again left three Elche defenders trailing before side-footing past the helpless Vicente Guaita.

Earlier, Eibar made a dream start to their first La Liga campaign with a 1-0 win over Basque rivals Real Sociedad in front of a capacity crowd of 52,000.

Javi Lara scored the only goal of the game with a wonderful curling free-kick just before halftime.

And Enrique's old side Celta Vigo also made a winning start as they beat Getafe 3-1 at Balaidos.

- AFP

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