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March 15, 2019

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Messi UCL mission on course

Lionel Messi pledged at the start of the season to bring “that beautiful cup” back to the Camp Nou and on the evidence of Wednesday night, few would bet against him.

Barcelona’s 5-1 thrashing of Lyon in their UEFA Champions League last 16, second leg, a score that overlooked a nervy spell in the second half when the visitors were a goal from going through, in the end, was all about him.

Messi scored twice, including from the penalty spot, although it was no ordinary spot-kick, instead a delightful chip that hung in the air and plopped perfectly down the middle.

There was a pair of assists too, for Gerard Pique and Ousmane Dembele, during a three-goal flurry in the final 12 minutes, with Messi leaving Lyon defenders sprawled to add a second of his own.

“Almost everything went through Messi,” said Lyon coach Bruno Genesio, whose team had held Barcelona to a 0-0 draw in the first leg. “When he is at that kind of level he is almost unstoppable. We did what we could.”

Lyon restricted him to two goals, one short of Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick that had sent Juventus through and Atletico Madrid crashing out in Turin on Tuesday.

Messi paid tribute. “Cristiano had a magical night,” he said.

The talk has been of a changing of the guard, after Real Madrid’s European hegemony was ended by Ajax, and a new era, with Spain having only one side in the UCL quarterfinals for the first time since 2010.

But Messi and Ronaldo remain constant, the former now on 108 goals in the competition, behind the latter’s 124.

Each still has the power to settle a tie on their own and those most ardent in the debate about who is greater might be hoping for a Barca-Juve showdown when the draw for the quarterfinals is made today.

“Big players like Leo and Cristiano, they give you so much,” said Pique. “Not just in results. Having Leo on your team makes you feel like you can face anything.”

Certainly, Barca will be amongst opponents that clubs will be keenest to avoid, with only Manchester City and perhaps Juve, because of Ronaldo, carrying the same sense of power and momentum.


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