Lionel Messi came off the bench to help Barcelona rally for a 1-1 draw with Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday and reach the Champions League semifinals for a sixth year in a row.
Barcelona advanced on the away goals rule after its 2-2 draw in Paris last week meant the contest finished 3-3 on aggregate.
Messi,who had injured his hamstring a week earlier,was only cleared to play an hour before kickoff. He went on in the 62nd minute with his team losing 1-0 after Javier Pastore’s opener.
It took him nine minutes to start the decisive move that Pedro Rodriguez finished off to keep Barcelona in the hunt for its fourth Champions League title in eight seasons.
Messi has dominated many a match for Barcelona on its way to trophy success in recent seasons,but his importance and leadership for the Catalan club was rarely more evident than on Wednesday night.
Barcelona was a different team with Messi _ though he was probably not at full strength_ compared the lackluster side that PSG toyed with while the Argentina international watched from the dugout.
Barcelona was almost unrecognizable for stretches in the first half without its star,as it lost its nerve and became sloppy in its trademark passing.
Besides Xavi Hernandez’s second-minute free kick which just missed,PSG proved the more incisive side,needing to score with Barcelona holding the away-goal advantage.
But once the four-time world player of the year went on,Barcelona snapped into action,scored the decisive goal,and bossed the rest of the match.
PSG’s main threat in the early stages was striker Ezequiel Lavezzi,who forced goalkeeper Victor Valdes into action twice before the quarter-hour mark,while Lucas sailed a long shot over the bar in the 19th.
Barcelona was limited to Andres Iniesta’s incursions and Pedro’s shot into the side-netting from a tight angle.
Lavezzi had a good chance in the 24th when Zlatan Ibrahimovic,who excelled as a playmaker all game,put him through the Barcelona defense. However,Valdes was able to block the low shot he had poked toward the goal and Gerard Pique scrambled to clear the rebound.
PSG’s surge rattled Barcelona,which uncharacteristically started to err in its normally crisp passes,and Lucas gave the Camp Nou crowd another scare with a header that Valdes swatted away after Ibrahimovic had picked the Brazilian out in the area.
A clever run by Lucas earned Adriano a yellow card in the 42nd,giving him a one-game suspension.
Pastore put PSG ahead when he worked a one-two with Ibrahimovic on the break to beat the offside trap,before holding off Dani Alves and using his left foot to scoop the ball over the sliding Valdes.
Messi immediately pulled up his socks on Barcelona’s bench and soon started to warm up on the touchline _ to cheers from the home fans.
After Dani Alves had sent a shot high from inside the area,Messi went on for Cesc Fabregas to huge applause.
Barcelona responded and started to pepper PSG’s goal with shots from Pique and Iniesta,but Messi fluffed his first opportunity when he lost control while taking aim after a rebound had fallen to him in the box.
Messi soon made up for his miscue,though,when he sped past two defenders into the area and passed for David Villa,who then laid the ball off to Pedro with a clever backpass that the forward rifled into the corner of the net with a left-footed strike.
David Beckham started the first leg for PSG but coach Carlo Ancelotti left him on the bench until the 83rd minute for Wednesday’s match.