Messi comes off bench to help save Barcelona against Paris St-Germain
Spanish champions reach sixth consecutive Champions League semi-final thanks to Pedro’s strike
Pedro of Barcelona celebrates scoring his side’s equalising goal against Paris St Germain at the Nou Camp. Photograph: David Ramos/Getty Images
Barcelona 1 PSG 1 (Aggregate 3-3, Barcelona win on away goals)
Leo Messi came off the bench to play a key role as Barcelona edged their way into the semi-final of the Champions League, maintaining their hopes of winning a third European Cup at Wembley. Nine minutes after coming on, and with his team struggling, he combined with David Villa and Pedro Rodriguez to create the goal that equalised Javier Pastore’s opener and put Barcelona through on away goals, to a sixth consecutive semi-final.
There were hopes Messi might start here with Barcelona leaving the decision until the last minute. In the end, though, he started on the bench, with Cesc Fabregas taking his place as the false number nine alongside Pedro and David Villa in the front three.
In the opening minutes, it appeared the enforced change could be an effective one here too. The game was barely a minute old when half the stadium rose to celebrate the opening goal only to realise Xavi’s free kick had hit the side netting. Before 10 minutes had passed, Villa struck another free kick into the wall, Cesc tumbled in the area and Andres Iniesta had a shot blocked. Then Iniesta saw Salvatore Sirigu off his line and tried to strike the ball over him .
Mid-way through the half, the game’s best opportunity fell to Ezequiel Lavezzi, when Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s pass put him one on one with Valdes. The goalkeeper was out quickly to stop with his legs and he saved again four minutes later when Marco Verratti found Ibrahimovic on the right and his cross found Lucas.
Within five minutes of the restart, Barcelona were behind. Ibrahimovic combined swiftly with Pastore, twice exchanging passes with the Argentinian and sending him into the huge space that lay behind Barcelona's advanced defence. Dani Alves chased Pastore but to no avail and his left footed shot squirmed past Valdes and into the net.
On the Barcelona bench, Messi pulled his socks up. A huge roar greeted him as he made his way to the touchline and began to warm up. Their task could have been even greater but Ibrahimovic's clever pull-back did not meet with the finish it deserved.
In the process, Adriano pulled up injured and had to be substituted by Marc Bartra. But before he could make it on, Alves had blasted Barcelona's best chance over from Jordi Alba's cross. When he did run on, there was a huge roar: coming on behind him, in place of Cesc, was Leo Messi. Barcelona had hoped that it would not come to this but they needed him.
He had half an hour to sort this mess out. Suddenly, the atmosphere changed. But when the first chance did drop his way, Messi was unable to control the ball when Iniesta's shot flew back off Sirigu.
The change did have an impact, though. Messi collected twenty yards from goal, dashed away from Pastore and evaded Verratti to find Villa in the area. He controlled and laid the ball back to Pedro who thumped a clean finish into the far corner. Messi had been on the pitch nine minutes. The intensity of the celebration, with Pedro leading a dash towards the bench and Messi clenching his fist, spoke of
Barcelona seemed different now; not that they were safe and not that the nerves deserted them entirely. Andres Iniesta produced a gorgeous turn in the area but put his shot wide with three minutes left while at the other end Lucas almost bundled his way through. The match, and the tie, remained on a knife edge. There were whistles now, the noise rising as they pleaded with the referee to end it. When he finally did, just moments after Ibrahimovic's header was caught by Valdes, the Camp Nou erupted. It was the night's biggest roar, marginally louder than the one that greeted Messi's introduction.
Barcelona: Valdes, Dani Alves, Pique, Adriano (Bartra 62), Jordi Alba, Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta, Pedro, Fabregas (Messi 62), Villa (Song 83). Subs not used: Pinto, Sanchez, Thiago, Montoya. Booked: Adriano.
PSG: Sirigu, Jallet (Van Der Wiel 88), Alex, Thiago Silva, Maxwell, Lucas Moura, Verratti (Beckham 83), Thiago Motta, Pastore, Ibrahimovic, Lavezzi (Gameiro 81). Subs not used: Douchez, Sakho, Chantome, Armand. Booked: Lavezzi, Thiago Silva, Beckham.
Referee: Bjorn Kuipers (Holland).