Messi Breaks Record to Put Barça Through

April 13, 2011

FC Barcelona are through to the semi-finals of the Champions League after a measured 1-0 victory in the Ukraine. The upshot is a likely encounter with Real Madrid in the next round, with four Clásicos looming on the horizon. It’s proving to be a thrilling conclusion to a campaign that could yield an historic treble for Guardiola’s men.

Tonight the outcome of this quarterfinal tie was rarely in doubt. An early spell of Shakhtar pressure was negotiated thanks to the safe hands of Víctor Valdés, and, when Messi notched a record-breaking 48th goal of the season in the final minutes of the first half, a potentially testing evening became a lot easier for the Blaugrana side.

Still, Shakhtar Donetsk are a club with considerable European pedigree, and had a home record in the Champions League strong enough to suggest that Barcelona still had some work to do. Despite the 5-1 first leg score-line Pep Guardiola certainly wasn’t taking the challenge lightly, selecting his strongest available lineup, with Afellay taking his place on the left of the front three as Pedro continues his careful reintroduction to the first team.

As expected from a side hoping to overcome a four-goal deficit, Shakhtar took the reins in the opening minutes, attacking with style and pace. Much of their best work came though the Brazilian Jadson, who produced an early chance for Douglas Costa, but the winger’s near-post effort was matched by a wonderful reaction save from Valdés. More smart interplay found Jadson alone on the penalty spot, but his shot was easily gathered by the Barça goalkeeper.

They would prove to be Shakhtar’s best opportunities of the match. By the 20-minute mark FC Barcelona had found their feet. Mascherano had slipped back into defence with Sergio Busquets pushing forward into his favoured holding midfield role and the Blaugrana side was starting to look very comfortable, producing opportunities for Adriano and Afellay before Messi capped a stylish move to end the match as a contest.

The Argentine star was found by Dani Alves on the edge of the area, evaded one desperate Shakhtar challenge and dispatched the ball past Pyatov into the bottom-right corner. It was his 48th goal of the season – a new Spanish record, beating his own tally from last season and surpassing Ronaldo’s record for Barcelona in 1996-97, and Puskas’ effort for Madrid in 1959/60.

The second half was largely uneventful. A succession of attacking Shakhtar substitutions failed to loosen Barça’s grip on the game, and the away team nearly doubled their lead when Messi went on a spectacular run, dodging two tackles before laying the ball off to Afellay whose shot was palmed away by Pyatov.

Shakhtar mustered one final chance when Víctor Valdés denied Mkitaryan with a dazzling save to help Barça close out the tie as impressive 6-1 victors. The result also ends a run of eight winless knockout-stage matches for Guardiola in the Champions League.

0-1 Messi (min 43)

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