The Argentine attacker is clearly some way short of his optimum condition, yet his mere presence gave the Catalan club a huge lift and inspired it to victory over PSG
The Camp Nou crowd were fearing the worst. Barcelona looked lost for much of the first half without Lionel Messi and the Catalans conceded early in the second as Javier Pastore fired Paris Saint-Germain ahead on a quick break. Eerie silence ensued and Barca was staring at a last-eight exit. It was time for Lionel Messi.
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.
At first it seemed his influence would be merely psychological as he took time to adjust to the pace of the game, but one wonderful run was enough to change the course of this tie: Messi advanced from deep, found David Villa and the striker's lay-off was met by Pedro, whose low drive into the bottom corner put Barca back in control. Messi made it with his one important intervention; half-fit, he had still been his side's savior.
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.