A brillant piece of skill from Daniel Alves unlocked the home defence for Messi’s opening goal on 12 minutes. Atlético had to play with ten men for most of the second half after defender John Heitinga was sent off for felling Messi in the penalty area as the forward was racing to meet an Alves cross. Messi sent Grégory Coupet the wrong way from the spot to double Barça’s lead before substitute Tomáš Ujfaluši pulled a goal back just over ten minutes later with a header from Simão’s corner.
Yet the last word was Messi’s, the Argentinian international completing his hat-trick on 80 minutes when he picked possession up in the area, wrong-footed Coupet and lifted the ball into the roof of the net. Seconds earlier, he had weaved his way through the Atlético defences and drilled a shot against the bar. Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said his side, who lead the Liga by eleven points, had made a big step towards the quarter-finals ahead of next week’s second leg: “I am very satisfied with the effort the players made tonight. We kept up a good level of intensity and Messi was magnificent.”
Guardiola’s counterpart at Atlético, Javier Aguirre, also paid tribute to the Barcelona No10, saying: “He’s playing at an extraordinary level. He also has a lot of confidence and that’s very positive for his team.” Five more first-leg ties will be played on Wednesday, followed by the remaining two on Thursday.