Barcelona booked their place in the quarter finals of this season’s Champions’ League in truly emphatic style on Wednesday night at the Camp Nou. Leading, German side, Bayer Leverkusen 1-3 from the first-leg three weeks ago, the Catalan masters, and, in particular, Lionel Messi, turned on the style, running out 10-2 aggregate winners. Messi was in scintillating form, as he put the German’s to the sword with his customary smile; the Argentine’s five goal haul, the first time this has ever been achieved by a player in the Champions’ League, goes a long way to proving that he may well be the best that the World has ever seen.
As was to be expected, Barcelona hit the ground running and were in full control from early on. Messi almost gave the Catalans the lead after ten minutes, however Leno made the first of many very good saves to deny him. It wasn’t long before Leno was required again, making a good save from Xavi’s free-kick, the Spain international having narrowly missed with an earlier effort.
Leno was beaten for the first time in the 25th minute, Lionel Messi beat the offside trap with a perfectly timed run, picked up Xavi’s through-ball, and, as the Leverkusen stopper advanced, lifted the ball over him, and into the net, with a beautiful scooped finish.
It was all Barcelona, they attacked in waves, and after again being thwarted by Leno, Messi had his, and the Catalan’s, second, just before half-time. Cutting in from the right hand side, the little magician made enough space to smash a perfectly placed finish into the bottom left-hand corner of Leno’s goal; 2-0 Barca.
Four minutes after the break he was at it again! Beating the offside trap at will, Messi picked up Fabregas’ through-ball, advanced on Leno, and, when it looked like he was running out of room, produced another impudent lob, even better than the first, which flew perfectly over the goalkeeper, and into the far corner. That goal completed Messi’s seventh hat-trick of the season, a truly awesome statistic.
Leverkusen were unable to counter the quick short passing of their hosts, and spent the majority of the second half chasing shadows. The introduction of Tello brought even more pace to Barcelona’s left hand side, and the youngster didn’t waste any time getting in on the act, scoring with almost his first touch. Picking up Fabregas’ touch-on, Tello curled a low shot around Leno to make it 4-0.
Messi made it five, his own skilful run panicked the Leverkusen defenders into letting him through, and when Leno’s handling let him down, the Argentine tapped in from a tight angle. Just four minutes later it was six, Tello again being found in space on the left hand side of the German’s box, and again he applied the finish. Leno could have done better with Tello’s effort, as he allowed the ball to go underneath his body; his frustration at this, and the result in general, obvious, as he kicked out at his post.
The game settled for a twenty minute period, before two goals in the last five minutes. The first, no surprises, was from Messi once more. Cutting across the edge of the box from the right hand side, he went past two defenders before finding the gap he needed to send a perfect, firm, left foot finish arching into Leno’s bottom right hand corner. A master-class from Messi, taking his tally for this year’s competition to 12 goals from 7 games, truly breathtaking!
Bayer Leverkusen produced a bit of quality all of their own before full-time though, as Rolfes and Bellarabi combined on the edge of the box, in a move which ended with the latter curling an excellent first time effort, around Victor Valdes and into the far corner. Scant consolation, however, for the humiliated Germans.
Barcelona were magnificent over the two legs, Messi stole the show, but Alexis Sanchez was fantastic in the first-leg, and as a team they were far, far too hot for Leverkusen to handle. The Catalan’s march on, and quite clearly, they are the team to beat again this year. Bayer Leverkusen were outclassed, they were always going to lose this tie, but the manner of the defeat will hurt, as this is the first time that Barcelona have ever scored seven in a Champions’ League game, and a 10-2 aggregate defeat, will be hard to live down.
Apoel Nicosia vs Lyon (in brief)
Apoel Nicosia made history last night by becoming the first Cypriot club to ever reach the last eight of the Champions’ League. The Cypriot Champions won a dramatic penalty shoot-out after beating the French Club 1-0 in normal time, stretching their excellent run of home results in Europe still further.
Apoel, who were 0-1 down from the first-leg three weeks ago, got off to the best possible start when Manduca popped up at the far post to turn in Charalambides’ low cross after nine minutes. The striker’s delight was obvious and he picked up the customary yellow card for ripping his shirt off in celebration; a rule that needs to be changed in my opinion, as it goes against the spirit of the game.
Both teams had chances to add to the score-line in normal time, notably Bastos and Lisandro for the visitors, with Ailton and Solari going close for the hosts. All opportunities spurned, the game entered extra time; and but for a couple of half-chances, the only real action came five minutes before the end of the second period. The unfortunate Manduca having his night soured, picking up a second yellow card for a foul on Lacazette in midfield.
Apoel hung on, and penalties were the result. Chiotis in goal for Apoel cut a much more energetic and confident figure between the posts than his opposite number Lloris; unlucky to be beaten by Lisandro’s kick, which came back off the post before hitting him on the back and going in, Chiotis was guessing right every time. With the score tied at 3-3, Chiotis guessed right again, diving to his left, he saved Lacazette’s penalty. Ivan Trickovski stepped up, and slammed Apoel’s fourth penalty past Lloris and into the back of the net, which meant that Bastos had to score to keep Lyon alive. Chiotis dived to his left again, brilliantly parrying the Frenchmans’s effort, sending Apoel through, and Lyon crashing out!
A fantastic result for the Cypriot champions, who thoroughly deserved to go through over the two legs; for them, the fairytale continues. For Lyon, they must pick themselves up, and arrest a domestic slide which has seen them fall out of contention in the league over recent weeks, a hard road lies ahead if they can’t.