Skip to content

Beyond our doubts: Messi leads Barcelona to history, Champions League quarters

Mar 12, 2013, 5:39 PM EDT

FC Barcelona v AC Milan - UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Getty Images

It’s so easy now, after witnessing what became a route in Catalonia, to wonder why we ever doubted Barcelona, but we had good reason to think Milan would hold the two-goal lead they carried into today’s Champions League eliminator. Nobody had ever squandered that kind of a league. But perhaps more importantly, recent losses to Milan and Real Madrid (twice) provided hints Barcelona’s attack had been figured out, with good teams able to sit back and absorb the Catalans’ attack rather than waste time chasing tikis and takas.

We had every reason to think Barcelona would bow out of Champions League, but their 4-0 win (4-2, aggregate) reminded us, Milan, and the European soccer world that there’s one aspect of Barcelona’s attack that defies solution. The only options you have against Lionel Messi are containment, hope, and prayer that he doesn’t decide to do something special.

Three weeks ago at the San Siro, those options worked, but it only took five minutes for Messi to make his mark on Tuesday, the first touch on a shot from 19 yards placed immaculately into Christian Abbati’s upper-right hand corner. The ball left Messi’s foot so quickly, Milan’s defense was left frozen as the ball buckled the back of the net.

(MORE: Highlights of Messi’s brilliant opener.)

Messi added his second five minutes before half, a score produced by a Barcelona defense that was much more disruptive on Tuesday than it had been three weeks ago. In the 40th minute, as Milan attempted to transition the ball out of their final third, Andrés Iniesta forced a turnover, found Messi outside the area to the right of goal, and set up the Argentine for the equalizer. Using the lunging Philippe Mexes as a screen, Messi beat Abbiati well inside the right post, sending the matchup into halftime tied at two.

Ten minutes into the second, Barcelona’s defense created the winner, with a bold read from Javier Mascherano again disrupting Milan’s transition. The Barça defender intercepted a clearance and started a short movement that ended at the feet of David Villa. Open 15 yards out to the right of goal, Villa calmly passed the ball into the left side netting, putting Barcelona in front.

Milan’s approach was never one to play from behind. Despite three subs that changed their side, the Rossoneri couldn’t gain control of the match. The closest they came to an equalizer was a late cross for Robinho, a ball that was cut out by Jordi Alba before Victor Valdes’s help was needed.

In the 93rd minute, Alba got his reward, sprinting the length of the field to complete a counter that sealed Barcelona’s place in the quarterfinals.

(MORE: Galatasaray compounds Schalke’s season of contradictions)

With the win, Barcelona became the first team to turn around a 2-0 first leg deficit and advance in the Champions League, a fact that should haunt a Milan side that couldn’t muster the resiliency they leveraged three weeks ago. The Italians never posed the same threat on the counter, and the space between their midfield three and central defense proved easier to exploit. Perhaps it was too much to ask them to maintain the same standard they performed to in Milan.

And perhaps it was too much to ask them to stop Messi twice in a row. In Italy, the Ballon d’Or winner was surprisingly ineffectual. In Spain, he defined the match in the same way we expect him to define any match he starts.

Villa may have got the winner, and Alba may have provided the insurance, but it was Messi who steered his side to history. Maybe we were wrong to doubt.

Latest Posts
  1. Cruz Azul defeats Toluca, claims record sixth CONCACAF crown

    Apr 24, 2014, 12:36 AM EDT

    cruz_azul Getty Images

    Mariano Pavone’s first half goal in Toluca delivered La Maquina a record-breaking title.

  2. Hat trick from Wright-Phillips gives New York two wins in a row

    Apr 23, 2014, 11:56 PM EDT

    bradley_wright_philllips AP

    The Red Bulls’ slow start is quickly becoming a distant memory as New York posted a 4-0 win over visiting Houston.

  3. NWSL Digest: Feeling the Spirit as we move past Week 2

    Apr 23, 2014, 8:26 PM EDT

    NWSL logo

    A future star makes a quick impact as Washington puts week one behind them.

  4. Five moments that mattered in Bayern Munich’s trip to Real Madrid

    Apr 23, 2014, 5:55 PM EDT

    cristiano_ronaldo Getty Images

    Ronaldo pronounced fit; Benzema breaks through, and Casillas stones Götze.

  5. PHOTOS: Liverpool reveal ambitious Anfield expansion plans

    Apr 23, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT

    Source: Liverpool Football Club Source: Liverpool Football Club

    Incredible plans to expand Anfield revealed, as public will now have their say:

  6. Three things we learned from Real Madrid’s win vs. Bayern Munich

    Apr 23, 2014, 4:51 PM EDT

    arjen_robben_xabi_alonso Getty Images

    Tedious Tiki-Taka, counter-attacking clinic and gilt-edge chances:

  7. Benzema goal holds up as Real Madrid claim 1-0 lead over Bayern Munich

    Apr 23, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT

    karim_benzema_real_madrid AP

    Striker’s 19th minute score gives the nine-time champions a 1-0 lead ahead of next week’s second leg.

  8. VIDEO: Premier League Player of the Week – Week 35

    Apr 23, 2014, 4:19 PM EDT

    Raheem Sterling has been on fire as Liverpool surge up the standings. AP

    Find out who won the PL Player of the Week award, right here:

  9. VIDEO: Premier League Team of the Week – Week 35

    Apr 23, 2014, 3:36 PM EDT

    connor_wickham Getty Images

    Which players made the PL team of the week? Find out, right here:

  10. Major League Soccer Power Rankings – Week 7

    Apr 23, 2014, 2:54 PM EDT

    obafemi_martins_dan_kennedy AP

    The top two remain unchanged, but there’s a major shakeup in elsewhere near the top of our weekly rankings.

  11. DC Brew-nited: Team, keeper among MLS folks in the craft beer game

    Apr 23, 2014, 2:25 PM EDT

    http://www.dcbrau.com/ http://www.dcbrau.com/

    Andrew Dykstra wants to brew you a beer, and several teams have specific offerings in mind.

  12. Star-studded lineups unveiled for Real and Bayern; Bale on bench

    Apr 23, 2014, 1:42 PM EDT

    Real Madrid v Manchester United - UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Getty Images

    The big guns will be firing for Bayern Munich and Real Madrid at the Bernabéu, and there’s plenty of ammunition on both benches if needed.

  13. Moyes statement on dismissal; Reports say he was recruiting to the end

    Apr 23, 2014, 1:28 PM EDT

    FBL-ENG-PR-MAN UTD-CHELSEA Getty Images

    Reports say David Moyes was “seething” at what he perceived to be an unprofessional dismissal from Manchester United.

  14. Head coach Marc Wilmots says Adnan Januzaj will play for Belgium

    Apr 23, 2014, 12:52 PM EDT

    Januzaj Getty Images

    Bad news for England, as Januzaj is headed for a brand new Belgium kit.

  15. Who’s in across Europe? Glancing at the 2014/15 UEFA Champions League

    Apr 23, 2014, 12:11 PM EDT

    Portugal Soccer AP

    Some slots are firm, while there’s plenty to be settled in the next few weeks. Let’s take a look at whose guaranteed to make the group stage

  16. Landon Donovan praises David Moyes, says he’d be welcome in MLS

    Apr 23, 2014, 11:41 AM EDT

    Donovan-Moyes

    Speaking with Sports Illustrated’s SI Now, Donovan spent some time lauding David Moyes and lamenting his dismissal from Manchester United.

  17. WATCH: Rafa Marquez’s latest blatant, unnecessary attempt to injure

    Apr 23, 2014, 10:52 AM EDT

    Rafa Marquez AP

    He’s simply one of the worst that’s ever played.

  18. Newcastle veteran Ameobi takes shot at club’s transfer failings

    Apr 23, 2014, 10:25 AM EDT

    Newcastle United v Southampton - Premier League Getty Images

    Shola Ameobi has played a lot of roles during his time at Newcastle; His latest role is vocal critic of the club’s transfer practices.

  19. Jermaine Jones’ tattoo will have opponents seeing stars (and stripes)

    Apr 23, 2014, 9:40 AM EDT

    Jermaine Jones 2

    The USMNT midfielder posted this shot to his Instagram account on Tuesday, proclaiming his new stars and stripes knee tattoo complete.

  20. Liverpool’s Ayre to spend this summer: “It will cost what it costs”

    Apr 23, 2014, 8:48 AM EDT

    Leaders in Sport Getty Images

    The Champions League will make Liverpool more attractive, says its managing director, and the club will spend money to fortify its team.

Featured video

FIRED: Where David Moyes went wrong