At the final whistle of this tense game, Lionel Messi casually strolled around, shaking hands, receiving an embrace from Paris St-Germain’s Ezequiel Lavezzi, almost oblivious to the torrent of emotion sweeping the terraces because of his talismanic impact, as the Spanish side went through on away goals; 3-3 on aggregate. Half an hour earlier, Messi had risen from the bench, relaxed his team, inspired them and helped create Barcelona’s equaliser. Make no mistake: Messi rescued Barcelona last night. On one leg.
As Barcelona fans celebrated, Messi calmly acknowledged the officials, then ambled towards the tunnel, swapping shirts with his fellow Argentine Lavezzi on the way. Messi was far from fully fit, and he must have been wary of whether his hamstring might give way to sudden exertion, but he was there when his team needed him.
And they really needed him. They were trailing to Javier Pastore’s opener. They were being opened up by the clever passes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is often deemed a selfish centre-forward but kept fashioning opportunities for colleagues here. Barcelona’s defence bordered on the shambolic, missing Carles Puyol and Javier Mascherano. Adriano was no understudy.
Xavi and Andrés Iniesta worked overtime in midfield. Even they looked mortal without the celestial touches of Messi.
Barcelona’s main problem lay in attack; David Villa, Pedro and Cesc Fabregas buzzed about without bringing pain to the PSG defence. Barcelona’s coach, Tito Vilanova, had to gamble. Messi was required.
The moment he began warming up after Pastore’s 50th-minute goal, slipping on his shin-pads, hope entered the the Nou Camp. He arrived in the 62nd minute, and immediately Barcelona played with greater tempo.
Centrally stationed 40 yards out with only Marco Verratti for company, Messi showed for Dani Alves, willing the Brazilian to deliver the ball at speed into him. In one touch, Messi controlled the ball and steered it away from Verratti. Thiago Motta tried to close Messi down but he was away, darting towards the area, the ball finally flicked to Villa, who was lurking near the spot.
Thiago Silva had stepped out to try to cut off the danger but was too late. Maxwell and Alex tried to dispossess Villa but the Spaniard was now moving with far more conviction.
Slightly off-balance, and under pressure, Villa managed to play the ball back to Pedro, who finished with a firm drive from 16 yards past Salvatore Sirigu. They join Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Dortmund. Yet credit must be paid to PSG, who were superb, particularly Pastore, Lavezzi and Ibrahimovic. Carlo Ancelotti’s side had played with precision, pace and intelligence.