Mesmerising Messi inspires Barcelona to victory over Napoli

Last 16 2nd leg

FC Barcelona 3-1 SSC Napoli (Agg. 4-2)

A strong first-half performance from Lionel Messi guided Barcelona into the Champions League quarter-finals with a 3-1 victory over Napoli in their last-16 second leg on Saturday night at the Camp Nou.

Clement Lenglet opened the scoring, followed by a sensational strike from Messi and a late first-half penalty from Luis Suarez, before Lorenzo Insigne scored the lone Napoli goal from the spot.

With the result, Barcelona claimed a 4-2 victory on aggregate and will now head to Lisbon to take on Bayern Munich in a winner-take-all quarter-final.

The victory was largely down to a superb first 45 minutes from Messi, who was in full Champions League mode until the end of the first half when he sustained a hard knock from Kalidou Koulibaly. However, the second half from the Catalans will do little to quell the doubts surrounding Quique Setien and his ability to lead Barcelona back to their first Champions League final since 2015.

With a slew of players missing due to suspension or injury, Setien opted for as strong a starting XI as possible, meaning Nelson Semedo lined up at right-back and Sergi Roberto was pushed forward into midfield with Frenkie de Jong and Ivan Rakitic. Meanwhile, up front, it was the heralded trio of Messi, Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann.

Clement Lenglet is embraced by Lionel Messi after scoring the opening goal.

Barcelona’s nerves were tested early as Napoli struck the post before two minutes had even elapsed when Insigne mishit a shot with his shin and onto the woodwork.

The early minutes were bright for Napoli, but Barcelona would land a big blow and in the most un-Barcelona of ways. A corner kick was curled in by Rakitic and Lenglet met it perfectly, smacking a header into net for a 1-0 lead. There was some question as to whether the French centre-back had pushed Napoli’s Diego Demme to the ground on the play, but VAR saw no reason to overturn the call and the goal stood.

The goal was a big lift for Barcelona, who sought more, and Messi would deliver the second in spectacular fashion midway through the half. The Argentine collected a pass from Suarez and somehow found his way through three Napoli players. With a sea of Napoli legs all around and Messi on the ground, he managed to spring to his feet and latch onto the ball with his left foot to fire a shot that split a pair of defenders and whistled past Napoli goalkeeper David Ospina for a 2-0 Barcelona lead.

It was all Barcelona, and Messi thought he had tallied his second of the night, but VAR this time overturned the Barcelona goal, ruling that the No.10 had handled to control a cross from De Jong.

Barcelona then received a massive scare shortly before half-time when the swinging foot of Koulibaly struck Messi on the ankle as Messi was trying to dispossess the Napoli defender from behind in the area. Both players went down in serious pain, but there was also the matter of a potential foul and penalty. After a long wait, VAR and referee Cuneyt Cakir ruled that it was a penalty, and with Messi hobbling and trying to shake off the knock, Suarez handled spot-kick duties and converted to increase the lead to 3-0.

Just when it looked like Barcelona could put things on cruise control, a late penalty was called in favour of Napoli for a Rakitic foul on Dries Mertens in the area, and Insigne beat goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen to make it 3-1 and give Napoli some hope.

Messi celebrates his sensational goal.

The final minutes of the first half saw Messi’s mobility limited, but the half-time break apparently came at the right time, as Messi re-emerged from the dressing room ready to play the second half.

Napoli had the better of things to start the second half, but they were unable to find a way past Ter Stegen. Barcelona’s possession game slowly bled the clock, leaving Napoli to hope for something to happen on the counterattack.

Napoli had exhausted all five changes by the time Setien made his first substitution, with youngster Monchu receiving his first-team debut in place of Griezmann.

Even with the two-goal cushion, the final minutes would prove nervy for Barcelona, as Napoli committed numbers forward and Chucky Lozano came close on a pair of headers, the second one striking the post.

In the end, Barcelona did enough to seal the win and continue their pursuit of a sixth European crown.

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