Barcelona have one foot in the Champions League semi-finals after a 5-1 victory over Shakhtar Donetsk that left the visitors ruing a hatful of first-half misses.
The quarter-final first leg was absorbing from the opening kickoff. The first half was only two minutes old when Messi took off on one of his trademark runs. The ball eventually found its way to Iniesta who slotted the ball past Andriy Pyatov.
Shakhtar shrugged off the early goal and created chance after chance. Their problem was that they failed to take any of them. Four minutes after Iniesta’s breakthrough, Willian cut in from the left and despite the improbable angle forced a brilliant save from Víctor Valdés.
Luiz Adriano then had two one-on-one chances against Valdes, coming second best on both occasions, before Valdés raced out to clear brilliantly from the Brazilian striker as Alves horribly misplaced a pass. His excellence earned him a bit of luck, too, with Willian volleying just wide of Valdés’ vacated goal.
Messi in particular hauled Barcelona back into the game, tirelessly dragging Shakhtar’s markers this way and that until Iniesta had time and space to clip a perfect pass to Alves, who had timed his run to perfection and made it 2-0 Barca.
Shakhtar’s speed was causing a Barcelona defence missing Carles Puyol and Eric Abidal all sorts of trouble and Sergio Busquets was really being tested to the limit at sweeper. But it was Barcelona who went into half-time with a 2-0 lead.
Barca came out in the second half, knowing that the next goal could decide the tie. Messi and David Villa botj had attempts on goal before Piqué, taking advantage of a well-worked Xavi corner, drove home his second goal in as many games eight minutes in.
Shakhtar finally got the goal they deserved when Rakitskiy directed in Darijo Srna’s free-kick on the hour. But within 60 seconds Barcelona ended any hope that Shakhtar had of getting back in the game. Messi’s run and glided pass allowed Keita thrash into the top corner to make it 4-1.
Still Shakhtar responded, Luiz Adriano smashing a shot off Valdés’ right-hand post, with the ball bouncing back to the keeper. Messi had a goal ruled offside before Xavi rounded things off, in the process all but ending any hopes that Shakhtar of turning this tie around.