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Messi Leads Barca To Victory In Champions League

Barcelona are through to the Champions League semi-finals for the fourth successive season after a 1-0 victory rounded off a 6-1 aggregate triumph.

Shakhtar played valiantly and created a couple of excellent early chances. However, as in the first leg poor finishing was their Achilles heel and once the Spanish visitors had weathered that early storm, Lionel Messi’s effortless strike just before half-time sent the visitors through to the last four. They will now meet either Tottenham Hotspur or, more likely, arch-rivals Real Madrid.

Knowing they had to score at least four times to have any chance of a massive shock, Shakhtar made an express start. A brilliant pass by Jadson put fellow Brazilian Douglas Costa through on goal, but the 20-year-old failed to properly connect with his strike, shooting straight at the advancing Víctor Valdés.

The Barcelona goalkeeper repeated his magnetic trick midway through the half, positioning himself perfectly to receive Jadson’s shot on the turn following a pinpoint cross from Vasyl Kobin on his first Champions League start. Those two close calls sprung Josep Guardiola’s team to life and the danger signs were there as left-back Adriano and Messi, who had been well marshalled by Shakhtar’s makeshift defence, both went close. Fatally for the hosts, the warning was not heeded.

Two minutes before the interval, Messi escaped his markers again, cushioning Daniel Alves’ ball with time and space on the edge of the penalty area. He ghosted past Yaroslav Rakitskiy’s desperate challenge before cooling slotting left-footed beyond the helpless Andriy Pyatov. Messi’s ninth Champions League goal of the season took the Argentina striker to 48 in all competitions this term for Barcelona, surpassing Ronaldo’s 1996/97 club record.

With the aggregate result a foregone conclusion the second half felt like a procession as Barcelona were content to sit back and retain possession. Ibrahim Afellay almost doubled the lead on 59 minutes when Messi’s incisive run left Mykola Ishchenko and Henrik Mkhitaryan in his wake, before he laid the ball off. The Dutch international’s shot was well saved by Pyatov.

Mkhitaryan had a good chance to preserve Shakhtar’s unbeaten record in European competition at the Donbass Arena alive with 15 minutes to go, but the Armenian international shot straight at Valdés. There was still time for substitute Marcelo Moreno to produce the miss of the match, somehow failing to convert Mkhitaryan’s low cross from less than two metres out.

It summed up Shakhtar’s night and first quarter-final tie; for Barcelona it is onwards and upwards, to the familiar ground of the last four.

 

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