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Barca show why they are Europe’s best

henry-etoAn enthralling first-half display put Barcelona within touching distance of the UEFA Champions League semi-finals for the third time in four seasons as FC Bayern Munich were brushed aside at the Camp Nou.

First-half goals from Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry plus two from Lionel Messi ripped through the resistance of a Bayern side who had themselves scored a record 12 times against Sporting Clube de Portugal in the previous round, comprehensively ending the German club’s 100 per cent competitive record against Barça here. Ten years on from their final defeat by Manchester United there was more misery in Barcelona for Bayern, for whom Hans Jörg Butt made only his second start of the season in goal in place of Michael Rensing. The decision to opt for experience was to no avail as the Liga leaders imposed themselves at will with all three strikers in dazzling form.

Barça were into their stride from the first whistle and, even before Messi’s ninth-minute opener, a lovely interchange of passes between Daniel Alves, Xavi Hernández and Henry allowed the latter to round Butt. Martín Demichelis cleared off the line but the respite was brief for a Bayern defence already deprived of Lucio and Daniel Van Buyten and with a calf injury restricting Philipp Lahm to a place on the bench. Within moments Andrés Iniesta dribbled past Hamit Altıntop and Eto’o held off Breno before setting Messi free to slide past Butt for his seventh strike in eight UEFA Champions League matches this season.

The falling rain made the playing surface quick, but Barça’s passing and movement were even slicker and Eto’o duly made it two in the 12th minute. Iniesta and Messi combined again, the Barça No10 picking out Eto’o’s run in time to let the striker slide the ball under the advancing Butt. The carnival atmosphere was dampened slightly when Josep Guardiola was sent to the stands for his protests after Messi went down under Christian Lell’s challenge, but in the 38th minute Messi reacted by adding his eighth goal of the competition – becoming its leading scorer in the process – applying the finishing touch to Henry’s low cross despite the attentions of three defenders. Three became four when Messi tormented the Bayern defence again and, though he was felled by Mark van Bommel, Eto’o expertly exploited the advantage to help the ball reach Henry. Having scored Barça’s 700th goal in UEFA club competition against Olympiqe Lyonnais on Matchday 8, Henry took the pass and rolled his own 50th UEFA Champions League strike inside the far post.

Perhaps naturally the tempo dipped slightly in the second half as the home side moved the ball around crisply and Bayern worked intensely hard to staunch the flow of goals. Nonetheless it took a wonderful save from Butt to deny Messi his hat-trick; Gerard Piqué’s long crossfield pass was controlled perfectly and Lell outsprinted before Messi hit a fierce left-footed shot which the keeper parried on to the crossbar and over. After Carles Puyol had denied Bayern even a consolation with a perfect tackle on Zé Roberto, substitute Seydou Keita inadvertently kept the score at 4-0 by blocking Messi’s goalbound shot, although Bayern’s task in Tuesday’s second leg is already sufficiently daunting.