Messi steers Barcelona into CL quarters; Reds book last-8 spot
14 Mar 2019
Barcelona’s Lionel Messi (right) celebrates after scoring a goal against Lyon during their Champions League round of 16 match. Associated Press
BARCELONA : Lionel Messi came up just short of matching Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick a day earlier but still scored twice and set up two more as Barcelona beat Lyon 5-1 on Wednesday to reach the Champions League quarter-finals.
After Ronaldo’s treble on Tuesday for Juventus sent Atletico Madrid packing in Turin, Messi delivered his own symphony at the Camp Nou, where Lyon were outplayed save for a very brief period in the second half when they threatened a comeback in this last-16 tie.
A 0-0 draw in France in the first leg last month meant Lyon always had a chance to make Barca nervous, but Messi’s sumptuously chipped penalty and a simple finish from Philippe Coutinho looked to have finished them off before half-time.
Yet Lucas Tousart’s volley left Lyon one goal away from putting Barcelona out, only for Messi to take charge again. He scored once more, before teeing up Gerard Pique and Ousmane Dembele to complete the victory.
Messi now has 108 goals in the Champions League, behind Ronaldo’s imperious 124, but his latest double takes his team one step closer to the trophy they crave the most.
Barcelona go into Friday’s draw for the last eight as the sole Spanish representative, along with Juventus, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Porto and Ajax.
The last time Spain only had one team left at this stage was 2010 and after defeats for Atletico and Real Madrid, it was up to Barca to avert a first Spanish blackout since 2005.
Coutinho had been whistled off by his own fans last weekend but was picked to start, preferred to Dembele who had just recovered from a hamstring strain. The Brazilian was bright, enjoying one of his best performances in weeks.
Lyon could barely escape their own penalty area in early exchanges as Messi got to work. He fired one shot towards the top corner and then latched onto a Sergio Busquets pass but Anthony Lopes sprung out to intercept.
Jason Denayer was not as quick in the 16th minute. By the time he had twisted to follow Messi’s pass, the excellent Luis Suarez was a step ahead. Denayer slid but was nowhere near the ball and Suarez dragged his foot to make the contact clear.
A penalty was given, although Messi was made to wait while VAR checked, but there was no sign of tension. His chip down the middle was exquisite.
Lyon improved and Moussa Dembele’s shot needed a strong block from Clement Lenglet before Lopes collided with Coutinho and had to be replaced, in tears, in the 34th minute by Mathieu Gorgelin.
That was not before Barca had scored a second as the faultless Arthur Melo played an angled pass into Suarez, who wriggled clear. With only Lopes to beat, he tapped across for Coutinho, who had an open net.
Lyon looked dead and buried but found a way back in. It came from a corner, which Barca three times failed to clear. Amid the scramble, Tousart had time to chest and volley into the corner.
For 10 minutes, Barcelona were edgy but while Nabil Fekir lashed over, Lyon failed to step forward. Their momentum subsided and Messi finished them off in a late flurry.
First, his dummy sent Denayer and Marcelo flying and his shot was too strong for the weak hand of Gorgelin. Then, he twice tore away on the counter-attack, picking out Pique at the back post and finally Dembele, who made it five.
Meanwhile, Sadio Mane scored twice to steer Liverpool into the Champions League quarter-finals on Wednesday after a superb 3-1 win at Bayern Munich dumped out the German giants.
Having missed the goalless first leg at Anfield three weeks ago through suspension, Virgil van Dijk’s long pass led to Mane’s excellent first-half goal at the Allianz Arena.
“His first goal was ridiculous, the calmness with how he’s finished it off,” Liverpool midfielder James Milner told BT Sport.
“He’s on fire at the minute and let’s hope it continues for the rest of the season.” Dutch centre-back Van Dijk then headed last season’s runners-up Liverpool into a 2-1 lead from a Milner corner on 69 minutes after Joel Matip’s own goal had handed Bayern a first-half equaliser.
Mane made absolutely sure of Liverpool’s place in the quarter-final draw by nodding in six minutes from time.
Liverpool’s 3-1 aggregate victory means they join Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and Manchester United in the quarter-finals, completing a clean sweep of English sides reaching the last eight for the first time since 2008/09.
It is a bleaker picture in Germany as Bayern’s exit leaves no Bundesliga club in the quarters for the first time since 2005/06, as Borussia Dortmund and Schalke also bowed out in the last 16 -- to Tottenham and Man City respectively.
This is the first time since 2011 that Bayern have failed to make the quarter-finals.