Lionel Messi at his breathtaking best tore Bayer Leverkusen apart with a record five-goal Champions League haul last night as Barcelona swept into the quarter-finals 7-1 on the night and 10-2 on aggregate.
Meanwhile, in a further piece of history, Apoel Nicosia became the first Cypriot side to reach the last eight of a European competition after knocking out Lyons on penalties.
Messi became the first player to score five in a Champions League match. Substitute Cristian Tello scored twice as the holders equalled the biggest victory margin in the knockout stages of the competition.
The World Player of the Year, who did not appear to have a bead of sweat on him after the match at the Nou Camp, took his tally to 12 goals in seven Champions League appearances this term, equalling the record for a single season he shares with former Manchester United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy.
All five strikes against a hapless Leverkusen, including brilliant dinked efforts with either foot, showcased the stunning skills honed in Barça’s youth academy that have won him the World Player award for the past three years.
“The important thing is what the team did and that we qualified for the next round,” a typically modest Messi said afterwards. “It’s nice to score five but winning was the priority.”
After they lost last month’s round of 16 first leg in Leverkusen 3-1, the Bundesliga side’s mission impossible was effectively ended when Messi sped on to Xavi’s lofted pass and brilliantly scooped the ball over goalkeeper Bernd Leno in the 25th minute.
He added a second with a trademark run across the defence and low shot three minutes before half-time and completed his hat-trick with another stunning chip, this time with his right foot, four minutes after the break.
Tello netted twice either side of Messi’s fourth, which came after Leno spilled the ball at his feet, and the Argentine bagged his fifth with a powerful strike six minutes from time before Leverkusen substitute Karim Bellarabi scored in added time.
“He is a unique player,” the Barça coach, Pep Guardiola said. “Scoring five goals is not easy but if Leo sets himself the task of scoring six one day he will certainly do it”
In the night’s other game, Cypriot minnows Apoel kicked off an island party by beating Lyons 4-3 on penalties after a 1-0 win meant their tie finished 1-1 on aggregate after extra time.
Lyons’ Alexandre Lacazette and Michel Bastos had their spot-kicks confidently saved by Dionisios Chiotis. Apoel scored all four of their spot-kicks with aplomb to send their team mates and fervent fans into delirium in the tight GSP Stadium, with Chiotis mobbed on the pitch.
Gustavo Manduca, sent off in extra time for a second booking, had earlier netted at the far post on nine minutes as Apoel levelled the aggregate scores
“I think the players were very focused and at the end we were vindicated by our qualification,” Apoel coach Ivan Jovanovic said. “Just saying it, believe me, it’s something fantastic.”
Iain Rogers, The Independent