Messi fires Barca into Champions League semis

A brace from Lionel Messi in the first half and a second half strike from Philippe Coutinho saw the Catalan giants blow the Red Devils away on Tuesday night, as Barcelona eased past Manchester United 3-0 to advance to the Uefa Champions League semi-finals.

Barcelona led 1-0 on aggregate from the first leg at Old Trafford.

United came into the game low on confidence having lost four out of their last six games, but their head coach, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, was prepared to go to the Camp Nou and push Barca to the limits.

The Spanish side, meanwhile, came into this one having lost only one of their previous 30 Champions League games at home. However, they had a black cloud hanging over their heads after failing at the quarter final stage of the competition in the past three seasons.

The Red Devils came out of the blocks flying. It was a minute before they had the Barcelona defence worried as Paul Pogba played Marcus Rashford through on goal but the English striker’s unconvincing finish saw the ball graze the crossbar.

United continued to press Barcelona high up the field in order to make sure that the Blaugrana could not play their trademark free-flowing football.

Enter Lionel Messi. After being kept silent in the first leg, the Barcelona forward had a point to prove and, in the 16th minute, he latched onto a loose pass by United left back Ashley Young, squeezed the ball past two defenders and curled the ball past a helpless David de Gea.

The Nou Camp found its voice, and Messi looked in the mood. In the 20th minute, he would create space and unleash a right-footed shot which looked to be heading straight into the Man United goalkeeper’s arms, but De Gea would make a mess of it and the ball squirmed into the net.

Barcelona would control the game until halftime and take a two-goal advantage into the break. The tie was all but over as they led 3-0 on aggregate.

The second half saw Barca dominate the game and turn it into an exhibition.

In the 61st minute, Messi turned provider as he lifted a ball towards left back Jordi Alba who cushioned the ball down for Coutinho and the Brazilian curled an unstoppable effort past De Gea.

Messi went searching for his hattrick for the remainder of the game and the little maestro pulled the strings all over the field for the Blaugrana.

The Argentine would pick up the man of the match award as Barcelona cruised to a 3-0 victory on what was expected to be a tough test for the Spanish side on the night.

The Catalan giants will now face either Liverpool or FC Porto in the semifinals as they aim to lift the trophy for the sixth time in their history, a feat which they only achieved once before Messi joined the senior squad.

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Eyaaz Matwadia
Eyaaz Matwadia
Eyaaz Matwadia is a member of the Mail & Guardian's online team.
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