Messi magic returns as Barca progress to last 16

World Player of the Year Messi ended his recent mini drought when he struck from the penalty spot after half an hour and midfielder Busquets netted a rare goal when he headed in a Xavi free kick 10 minutes later.

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Milan pulled one back when Kaka’s low centre deflected into the net off Barca defender Gerard Pique moments before halftime before Messi raced through the middle to bag his sixth goal in Europe this season seven minutes from time.

The La Liga champions top the group on 10 points with Milan on five in second. Ajax are third on four points after they won 1-0 at home to Celtic in Amsterdam.

Barca quickly settled into their customary rhythm at their giant Nou Camp stadium with Xavi and Andres Iniesta pulling the strings in midfield and Messi, Neymar and Alexis Sanchez roving up front.

Alexis came close to an opener in the 21st minute when he just failed to get enough on a Neymar centre to turn it into the net before the referee ruled Ignazio Abate had hauled the Brazilian down in the area.

Messi, who had failed to score for four La Liga matches in a row before Wednesday, smashed the penalty straight down the middle and the familiar chant of the 26-year-old’s name echoed around the stadium.

Milan captain Riccardo Montolivo clipped a shot narrowly wide five minutes later but the visitors’ was caught napping when an unmarked Busquets headed into the net from Xavi’s free kick.

An impressive Kaka surge down the left wing led to Milan’s goal when his low centre skewed off Pique’s foot and past goalkeeper Victor Valdes into the net.

Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri brought Mario Balotelli on for Robinho at halftime and the Italy forward’s presence appeared to lift the Italian side.

They enjoyed a lot more possession without really threatening the Barca goal and Messi brought the supporters to their feet when he exchanged passes with substitute Cesc Fabregas and clipped the ball over Abbiati from close range to put the game beyond the seven-times European champions.

(Writing by Iain Rogers in Madrid, editing by Ed Osmond)


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Barca and Atletico reach last 16 with wins

Barca met seven-times winners AC Milan at the Nou Camp but the stock of the faltering Italians has fallen so much that even an average display from the hosts sealed a 3-1 success in Group H, Lionel Messi scoring a penalty and a cheeky third.

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La Liga rivals Atletico put on a better display in their 4-0 cruise past Group G whipping boys Austria Vienna to glide into the knockout stages after four wins from four with two matches to spare.

Miranda grabbed Atletico’s opener after 11 minutes before Raul Garcia rose athletically to head home the second, with Filipe Luis making it three for this term’s potential surprise packages on halftime. Diego Costa missed a penalty but added a fourth on 82 minutes.

Zenit St Petersburg stayed as favourites to take second spot and qualify after Hulk scored the equaliser but also missed a spot-kick in a 1-1 home draw with his former side Porto.

Arsenal grabbed swift revenge for last month’s home loss to Borussia Dortmund by snatching a 1-0 win at last term’s runners-up, Ramsey’s 62nd-minute header the latest in his purple patch of goals as Juergen Klopp’s side were suddenly left fretting.

Arsenal are top of Group F but level on points with Napoli, who overcame Olympique Marseille 3-2 at the San Paolo thanks in part to a cracker from Gokhan Inler, who chested down a clearance on the edge of the area and volleyed home.

Chelsea’s first goal in a 3-0 home win over Schalke 04 was hardly a classic, keeper Timo Hildebrand blasting his clearance against Samuel Eto’o and the ball flying into the net.

The Cameroonian slotted in a cool second after the break and Demba Ba also scored to put the Group E leaders on the verge of qualification, with the Germans second and Basel third after a late equaliser in a 1-1 home draw with Steaua Bucharest.

Despite the Nou Camp defeat, Milan remained second in Group H after Ajax Amsterdam beat Celtic 1-0 in the Netherlands.

European champions Bayern Munich and Manchester City, for the first time, qualified for the last 16 on Tuesday.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)


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Settlement spat looms large in Kerry visit

Secretary of State John Kerry has reaffirmed US opposition to Israeli settlements after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the Palestinians of creating “artificial crises” over the issue.

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Kerry arrived in the region late on Tuesday in a bid to keep fragile peace talks on track, as recriminations grew following three months of negotiations that appear to have made little progress in resolving the decades-old conflict.

His first meeting of the day was with Netanyahu, who denounced the Palestinians for threatening to quit the talks over Israel’s continued settlement construction on land they want for their future state.

The Israeli leader told Kerry, who is on his seventh visit to the region in 10 months, he was “concerned about the progress” of the talks, accusing the Palestinians of fabricating reasons to avoid making tough decisions.

“I see the Palestinians… continuing to create artificial crises, continuing to avoid, run away from the historic decisions that are needed to make a genuine peace,” Netanyahu said.

“I hope your visit will help steer them back to a place where we could achieve the historical peace that we seek.”

After nearly three hours of talks with Netanyahu, Kerry drove to the West Bank city of Bethlehem where he sought to play down the dispute.

“As in any negotiations, there will be moments of up and moments of down. It goes back and forth,” he told the crowds gathered outside the Church of the Nativity, the traditional site of Jesus’s birth.

But following more than two hours of talks with the Palestinians, including 40 minutes one-to-one with president Mahmud Abbas, he was quick to reiterate US opposition to the settlements.

“We consider now, and have always considered, the settlements to be illegitimate,” Kerry said.

“I want to make it extremely clear that at no time did the Palestinians in any way agree, as a matter of going back to the talks, that they could somehow condone or accept the settlements.

“That is not to say that they weren’t aware – or we weren’t aware – that there would be construction.”

He said Washington believes construction should be limited as much as possible in an effort to help create a climate for talks to be able to proceed effectively.

His remarks related to a bitter row that has erupted over Israeli moves during the past week to push ahead with construction of more than 3700 new settler homes.

Talks between the two negotiating teams which took place on Tuesday broke down over the issue, a senior Palestinian official told AFP.

Several Israeli officials have claimed the settlement announcements were in keeping with tacit “understandings” between the two sides linked to the release last week of 26 veteran Palestinian prisoners.

Their comments sparked furious denials from the Palestinians.


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Dutch plead for Greenpeace activists

An international maritime court will rule this month whether to order Russia to release 30 crew members of a Greenpeace ship held since mid-September, in a high-profile case brought by The Netherlands.

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Russia, as expected, did not attend the near three-hour hearing at the German-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, based in the northern port city of Hamburg.

Its angry response after two Greenpeace activists scaled a state-owned Gazprom oil platform to protest at Russian oil exploration in the Arctic has sparked an international outcry.

Russian coastguards boarded the Dutch-flagged Arctic Sunrise icebreaker on September 19, arresting the 30 crew members, who included activists from 18 countries including Australia, and two journalists, initially charging them with piracy.

The Netherlands urged the tribunal, established by the United Nations to help settle maritime disputes between states, to take provisional measures, including releasing the crew and allowing the ship to sail.

Liesbeth Lijnzaad, a legal adviser for the Dutch foreign ministry, told the tribunal’s judges that Russia had infringed the ship’s freedom to sail and violated the crew’s human rights.

Expressing regret for the empty Russian seats at the tribunal, she accused Moscow of pursuing legal action for “apparently groundless” reasons.

“The disagreement is worsening and spreading,” she said.

The tribunal’s president Shunji Yanai said a decision on the Dutch demands would be announced on November 22.

“We’re looking forward to that date and we’re confident that the decision reflects many of the points that have been made,” Lijnzaad said in a statement afterwards.

The crew members have been placed in pre-trial detention in Russia until November 24 and several have complained about their conditions, including being kept in isolation, cold cells and lack of adequate food and clothing.

Russian investigators last month reduced the piracy charge, which carries a maximum 15-year prison term, to hooliganism, the same charge used against the Pussy Riot punk band for a protest performance against Putin.

The Pussy Riot action in a Moscow cathedral in February 2012 landed two band members in prison for two years.

Greenpeace has said the Arctic activists never received official papers formally lifting the piracy charge.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said after talks last week with his French counterpart that Russia would not condone attempts to “influence technically complicated and unsafe processes” associated with the extraction of natural resources.

Objects such as oil platforms are essentially “like a powder keg”, he said.


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Court upholds 2Day FM prank call finding

Radio station 2Day FM has lost its bid to prevent the Australian media watchdog from finding it broke the law when it broadcast the infamous royal prank call last year.

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In a judgment handed down in the Federal Court in Sydney on Thursday, Justice Richard Edmonds ruled in favour of the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

The Sydney broadcaster went to the Federal Court seeking to prevent ACMA from finding the station committed a criminal offence or was in breach of its licence in relation to the December 2012 prank call, arguing it was a matter for the courts to decide.

It did so after the ACMA published a preliminary report into the incident, which has not yet been made public.

The prank on staff at the London hospital where the then-pregnant Duchess of Cambridge was being treated for severe morning sickness caused an international outcry after one of the nurses involved was found dead.

Jacintha Saldanha took her own life three days after 2Day FM’s Mel Greig and Michael Christian duped her into passing them on to a ward nurse, who gave out details about the Duchess’ condition.

In July, UK police referred the matter to the Australian Federal Police who are believed to still be investigating the matter.

In a hearing last September, lawyers for 2Day FM argued if ACMA were to make a criminal finding against the station, it could interfere with the course of justice and would do “enormous damage” to the station.

ACMA argued it was entitled to hand down its preliminary report in the exercise of its regulatory powers and in the public interest.

They said no final decision on the licence breach had been made and the report was “far from being about making a judgment of guilt” given no criminal proceedings were underway.

Justice Edmonds said he would allow a non-publication order on the preliminary report to remain in place for 14 days while 2Day FM considers its options.

He ordered the station to pay costs.


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