BARCELONA: Lionel Messi produced an inspired performance as Barcelona progressed to the quarterfinals of the Champions League on Tuesday, beating AC Milan 4-0 to overturn a 2-0 first-leg defeat. (Agencies)
Messi's form had been questioned by some after Barcelona were knocked out of the Copa del Rey by Real Madrid and looked demoralised in going down to Milan at the San Siro, but the criticism seemed to spur him on as he tore the Italians apart from the start. He scored at the beginning and end of the first half, while David Villa hit a special goal for himself 10 minutes in the second period after a long run of bad luck with injury and form.
That put the Catalans ahead in the tie for the first time, before Jordi Alba netted in injury-time to seal a 4-2 aggregate win and a place in Friday's quarterfinal draw.
On a personal level, Messi's brace saw him reach yet another landmark in an incredible career. He now has 58 Champions League goals, two more than Ruud van Nistelrooy, and his target now is Raul's all-time best of 71.
Before the game, it was a question of which out-of-form strikers would play with Messi in attack, and in the end Pedro Rodriguez was chosen along with Villa. At the back, captain Carles Puyol, who was carrying a slight knock, was not risked and so Javier Mascherano started alongside Gerard Pique.
Even with a two-goal advantage from the first leg, Milan knew they would be in for a tough night but they would have hoped to withstand the Barca pressure for longer than they did. The home side surged forward from the start and Milan could do nothing when Messi exchanged passes with Xavi Hernandez before stroking a beautiful finish into the top corner from the edge of the area after six minutes.
The tempo was considerably quicker from Barca than in recent matches but they had to be wary of Milan on the counter attack. The visitors were without an important player in Giampaolo Pazzini, who suffered an injury in Milan's 2-0 win over Genoa at the weekend, as well as the cup-tied Mario Balotelli, but they still had quality in attack.
BARCELONA: Lionel Messi produced an inspired performance as Barcelona progressed to the quarterfinals of the Champions League on Tuesday, beating AC Milan 4-0 to overturn a 2-0 first-leg defeat.