NEWS DIGEST – Lionel Messi led the way with two goals and two assists as FC Barcelona reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League in style on Wednesday.
The La Liga leaders thrashed Olympique Lyonnais 5-1 at home to advance by the same scoreline on aggregate.
Barca captain Messi opened the scoring with a “Panenka” penalty kick chipped straight down the middle in the 17th minute.
That was after Luis Suarez was fouled in the area.
It put the home side ahead in the tie after a goalless first leg in France.
Suarez then rounded Lyon goalkeeper Anthony Lopes to lay on a perfect pass for the unmarked Philippe Coutinho to nudge into an open net and double Barca’s lead.
Lyon although hauled themselves back into contention with a second-half strike from Lucas Tousart.
Messi soon killed off any hopes of an unlikely comeback from the French side, however.
He carved his way through the defence to score in the 78th minute.
The Argentina captain then toyed with Lyon’s back line twice more and laid off passes for Gerard Pique and then Ousmane Dembele to complete the rout.
“We played a great first half, then from a moment’s distraction it was 2-1 and we had five or 10 delicate minutes,” said Barca striker Suarez.
“We always knew it would be like this. The important thing is that we got the third goal and then we were far calmer.”
Barca coach Ernesto Valverde had warned his side of complacency after Paris St Germain (PSG) and Real Madrid’s surprise exits.
His words carried more weight after Atletico Madrid were knocked out by Juventus in spite of a 2-0 first leg win.
His side were in a more vulnerable position as a score draw would have sent them out, and they began the game as if they meant business.
Messi fired an early shot which Lopes had to beat away for a corner kick.
Lyon’s Lopes had to be taken off injured later in the first half, leaving the field in tears after taking a blow to the face.
Mathieu Gorgelin replaced him to make his UEFA Champions League debut.
Barca looked unsettled for a brief period after Tousart’s goal had put Lyon one goal away from knocking the Catalans out, and the home side defended with an air of panic.
But Messi soon eased their nerves, toying with Lyon’s defence before releasing a shot too powerful for Gorgelin to stop.
He continued to torment the visitors, gifting defender Pique a sliding tap-in with a beautiful pass and then setting up substitute Dembele.
Barca reached the last eight of Europe’s elite competition for the 12th consecutive season and will be Spain’s only representatives in Friday’s quarter-final draw.
Lyon goalscorer Tousart had little complaint about the final result and said his side were powerless to deal with Messi.
“We have to concede they were better than us. We weren’t up to the challenge and we were up against a great team, and in the end we were well beaten,” he said.
“There was no anti-Messi plan, and it’s so difficult to defend against a player of his quality. He has instinctive talent.”
Lyon coach Bruno Genesio added: “Tonight Messi was in UEFA Champions League mode. He’s a genius and can do things that nobody else can. Sometimes he is just unstoppable.”(Reuters/NAN)