Lionel Messi came off the bench to inspire Barcelona to come from behind and secure a place in the last four of the Champions League after a 1-1 draw with Paris Saint-Germain at Camp Nou. The result takes them through on away goals after the dramatic quarterfinal tie finished 3-3 on aggregate.
PSG had been superb for much of the encounter and thoroughly deserved their lead early in the second half given to them by Javier Pastore. But, despite not being deemed fit enough to start after his injury in the first leg last week, Messi’s arrival off the bench minutes later changed the atmosphere both on and off the pitch.
With 19 minutes remaining, his run helped set up a stunning finish by Pedro to send the Catalans into jubilation and PSG wondering what more they could do.
PSG will be bitterly disappointed but can be proud of their performance over the two legs, while Barcelona will be breathing a heavy sigh of relief and will know that they will have to improve if they are to lift a third European Cup in just five seasons.
Barcelona had actually started quite positively on the night with Xavi going agonizingly close with a free-kick. But, playing their first Champions League knockout match without Messi in five years, their attacking menace was nowhere near what has come to be expected from the Blaugrana in recent years.
Yet, it would be wrong to ignore the part PSG played in the tie and an engrossing second leg.
Manager Carlo Ancelotti again started with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ezequiel Lavezzi up front supported by Lucas Moura and Javier Pastore which gave them plenty of thrust going forward, while their work rate and compactness without the ball also made them solid defensively.
As the first-half wore on, the visitors increasingly grew in stature and confidence.
It was the young Brazilian Lucas who was the outstanding performer in the opening 45 minutes. The big-money January signing from Sao Paulo had PSG’s first effort on 14 minutes with a good shot comfortably saved by Valdes.
Lucas also demonstrated an admirable tenacity in the air as he got up well at the back post from Ibrahimovic’s excellent cross from the byline, but Valdes was well positioned to make the parry.
The best chance of the half, though, fell to Lavezzi. From Ibrahimovic’s perfectly-weighted through ball, the Argentinian just had the pace to hold off the covering Jordi Alba but not to enable him to get enough power or direction on his shot and Valdes blocked with his legs.
While Barcelona briefly threatened earlier in the period when Pedro beat Christophe Jallet down the left and on the brink of half time when Cesc Fabregas almost got on the end of an intricate pass, the visitors would certainly have been the happier side at the interval.
Five minutes after the break, their quiet confidence turned into something more and Barcelona’s anxiety became palpable.
Pastore, the least influential of PSG’s attackers to that point, came forward from half-way before a clever exchange of passes with Ibrahimovic got him clear breaking down the left of the box and, with Dani Alves unable to get back, the Argentinian struck a low finish that had just enough to beat Valdes.
While the goal spurred Barcelona into increased attacking action, PSG were still far from a solely defensive force. Eight minutes after his first, Pastore might well have had a second goal but, after another excellent pass from Ibrahimovic, on the stretch he couldn’t get a clean shot on target.
But, with 28 minutes to go, Messi made his decisive entrance.
While not immediately having a direct involvement, the substitution signaled an increase in the noise inside Camp Nou and an real step up in pressure from Barcelona for the first time in the contest. PSG continued to hold firm, though, as blocks came thick and fast from first defender and then goalkeeper to deny Gerard Pique and Iniesta.
Messi certainly didn't look anywhere near fit, but such is his incredible ability that he didn't need to be to have a crucial impact on the result. Less than 10 minutes after coming on, Messi picked up the ball 30 yards from goal and opened up space in front of him by beating a man with his familiar quick feet before feeding the ball into the area. Although David Villa’s route to goal was cut off, the forward laid it back to Pedro, who fired an unstoppable left-footed strike into the corner of the net.
PSG brought on David Beckham, but the 37-year-old never looked like having anywhere near the same impact as Messi. The Ligue 1 leaders’ belief had been dashed and Barcelona’s had been reborn as they survive to make their sixth consecutive appearance in the Champions League semifinals.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.