The Argentine is rarely on the bench these days, so his failure to start this match could mean only one thing: He was far from fully fit after injuring his hamstring in the first leg in Paris last week. But even his warming up on the touchline gave this ground a lift. And when he finally did come on, after 62 minutes, his mere presence changed the pessimistic panorama to an optimistic outlook. Hope had returned.
|MESSI MAKES IT HAPPEN
|FROM OUR LIVE COMMENTARY|
|71'||GOOOOOOOOAL!!!!!!! UNBELIEVABLE, I JUST SIMPLY DO NOT BELIEVE IT!!!!!! Pedro has levelled the game, a stunning shot from the edge of the area, and Barca are back. Do I even have to mention that Messi played a big part in that? Of course he did, what do you think? A neat pass played Villa into the area, the striker held up well and laid to Pedro to drop the bomb.
Before he had come on, Barca had not even managed a shot on target. Xavi, who ended the night with a 100 percent pass completion rate after making all of his 96 deliveries, and Andres Iniesta, who had tried to inspire the Catalans in Messi's absence, were hardly helped by a front three who looked as if they would not have scored in hours.
And so it was left to Messi, as so often before, to take the game by the scruff of its neck. It was far from his most memorable performance, but his entrance alone altered the pattern of the match. Barca was unrecognizable without him, a far cry from the team which had mauled Mallorca on Saturday. And that was understandable: PSG is in a different class to most sides in La Liga and, tactically, Carlo Ancelotti's side set up perfectly on Wednesday.
But with Messi, a half-fit Messi even, Barca looked and felt much more like itself. The Catalans march on and with La Liga already all but won, they can now rest their star man for as long as he needs until he is ready to meet either Madrid, Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund in the semifinals. The gamble paid off.
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