Lionel Messi brilliance leads Barcelona past Lyon and into Champions League quarter-finals
Argentine forward scores twice as the Spanish champions beat their French opponents 5-1 at Camp Nou to progress to the last-eight
Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid may have been eliminated in the Uefa Champions League last 16 stage, but Barcelona, the only Spanish team left after Valencia didn’t make it out of the group stage, made sure they made the last eight with a 5-1 aggregate win over Lyon.
It is the 12th consecutive year that the Catalans have reached the last eight, a peerless record. Barca are now 30 games unbeaten in European competitions at home.
Spanish teams have won seven of the last 10 Champions Leagues, and again Barcelona stand as favourites above any of the four English teams, Juventus, Ajax and Porto that still remain.
Given the context of second leg shocks in Madrid and Paris last week, plus Juventus’ 3-0 win over Atletico on Tuesday, Barca had the right to be nervous after the first leg in which a young Lyon team played well.
Bruno Genesio’s side may be 24 points behind Paris Saint-Germain, who they recently beat in Ligue 1, but they were unbeaten in seven Champions League games and had defeated Manchester City away earlier in the competition.
Backed by 5,000 fans, their resistance lasted 17 minutes. With the cries for Catalan independence ringing out as they do after 17 minutes of every Barca game, the home side were awarded a penalty after Luis Suarez was alleged to have been fouled. It didn’t look like a foul, yet the decision was given after VAR was consulted.
After a delay, Lionel Messi ran towards the ball, watched as the goalkeeper Anthony Lopes started to dive to his left and then flicked it softly down into the centre of the goal where Lopes had been standing.
This type of penalty, named a ‘Panenka’ after Antonin Panenka the Czech player who did it in the 1976 European championships, is celebrated in Spain where it has also given its name to a magazine. Like Panenka, Messi made the risky technique look easy.
Lyon’s Marcelo had a shot deflected shortly after but Barca made it 2-0 after 31 minutes when Suarez set up the under-fire Philippe Coutinho to tap the ball in. The Brazilian played well alongside Messi and Suarez – he needed to.
“Barca imposed a high pressure right from the start and we didn’t know how to fight against it,” said Lyon manager Genesio.
Leading 2-0, Barca relaxed, letting Lyon back into the game. Midfielder Tanguy Ndombele was the driving force and the 58th minute finish from defensive midfielder Lucas Tousart was deserved – it was also his first goal for two years.
With Barca looking so unsure, a nervousness enveloped the vast Camp Nout arena as the French fans sang on the top tier. A goal was all they needed. Those nerves were settled when the brilliance of Messi made it 3-1 after 78 minutes with the best goal of the game.
Messi ran at the defence, turned past Marcelo and Denayer then shot low past replacement goalkeeper Gorgelin, who got a hand to the ball.
The dream was over for Lyon, a dream once again skewered by the brilliance of Messi. The Argentinian led a counter attack to set up Gerard Pique to make it 4-1 after 81 minutes. Ousame Dembele added a fifth with five minutes left.
Again, the goal was set up by Messi after he ran at the Lyon defence before rolling the ball to Dembele, on as a substitute for Coutinho after 70 minutes. The Frenchman injected speed and energy when Barca needed it. He’ll be vital if Ernesto Valverde’s side are to win the competition for the first time since 2015.
“Messi is from a different stratosphere,” said Genesio. For Barca, with him in the team, the treble is a real possibility.
Updated: March 14, 2019 11:41 AM