Barca a step away from quarters

However much Bayer Leverkusen frustrated Barcelona,stifling Lionel Messi proved impossible for 90 minutes

Written by Associated Press | London | Published:February 16, 2012 1:13 am

ROB HARRIS

However much Bayer Leverkusen frustrated Barcelona,stifling Lionel Messi proved impossible for 90 minutes. Another inspirational display from the tireless Argentina forward,put the holders on the verge of the Champions League quarterfinals following a 3-1 away victory in the first leg on Tuesday. “He scored a really wonderful goal and was involved in many moves,” Barca coach Pep Guardiola said of Messi. “He’s continuing to show his strength which for us is vital.”

Breaking down a stubborn Leverkusen side in the round-of-16 match was the perfect riposte to domestic troubles that have resulted in Barcelona falling 10 points behind Real Madrid in Spanish league. “When you play against the German teams you don’t have the control or possession a lot and they are physically stronger,” Guardiola said. “In the second half,we played a game that was not too interesting for us but we scored three goals and we will try to finish it in the second leg at home.”

Despite its domestic troubles,few would bet against Barcelona reaching another Champions League final or becoming the first team to defend its European title since AC Milan in 199l. As Messi began to exert more influence,the team broke through in the 41st minute.

After spotting a rare gap in the Leverkusen midfield,Messi slipped the ball through to Sanchez,who slotted a shot past goalkeeper Bernd Leno and inside the left post. Leverkusen defender Michal Kadlec equalised at the start of the second half by heading in Vedran Corluka’s cross,but Barcelona was back in front three minutes later.

It was Sanchez again who scored,after Cesc Fabregas initially sliced open the defence. After evading Leverkusen defender Manuel Friedrich,Sanchez rounded Leno before finishing from a tight angle. “Alexis is putting in a lot of work and is scoring a lot,” Guardiola said. “He opens up the pitch for us and his movement is great.”

Messi was also causing the hosts more trouble with his menacing,weaving runs — and he gave his team a crucial third away goal in the 88th. Naturally,he started the move. After setting Dani Alves free on the right,Messi darted into the penalty area to direct a pinpoint return from the Brazilian into the net to score a competition-leading seventh goal this season.

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