Lionel Messi has never been short on late-game heroics,and not even a sore hamstring stopped him from going on as a substitute to help Barcelona rally for a 1-1 draw with Paris Saint-Germain and a place in the Champions League semifinals on Wednesday. Barcelona advanced on the away goals rule after their 2-2 draw in Paris last week meant the contest finished 3-3 on aggregate,but not without showing just how much they depend on Messi against major opponents.
Messi,who had injured his right leg after scoring in their first match,was only cleared to play an hour before kickoff. He went on in the 62nd minute with his team losing 1-0 after Javier Pastores opener and struggling to find their form.
It took him nine minutes to start the decisive move that Pedro Rodriguez finished off to put Barcelona into a sixth straight semifinal and on course for a fourth Champions League title in eight seasons.
Messi has dominated many a match for Barcelona on their way to trophy success in recent seasons,but his importance and leadership for the Catalan club was rarely more evident than on Wednesday night. Messi is a very important player and he put in a great effort, Pedro said. He was the catalyst. We changed after he came on.
Barcelona were a different team with Messi despite not being at full strength compared to the lacklustre side that PSG toyed with while the Argentina international watched from the dugout. Barcelona were almost unrecognisable for stretches in the first half without their star,as they lost their nerve and became sloppy in their trademark passing.
Besides Xavi Hernandezs 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.
PSGs 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 were limited to Andres Iniestas incursions and Pedros attempt that hit 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 ball he had poked toward the goal and Pique scrambled to clear the rebound.
PSGs surge rattled Barcelona,who uncharacteristically started to err in their 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 Barcelonas 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,huge applause greeted Messi when he went on for Cesc Fabregas.
Barcelona responded and started to pepper PSGs 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 to restore the hosts lead in the tie.