Magic man Messi ends Shakhtar’s faint hopes

BARCELONA secured their place in the semi-finals of the Champions League and a probable showdown with arch rivals Real Madrid after completing home and away victories over Shakhtar Donetsk last night.

Leading 5-1 from last week’s quarter-final first leg at the Nou Camp, Barca weathered an early storm at the Donbass Arena before netting what would prove to be the only goal of the night through Lionel Messi just before half time.

That was Messi’s 48th competitive goal of what has been an incredible season and ensured there would be no slip-up by Pep Guardiola’s side, who will meet Madrid in the last four unless Tottenham can overhaul a 4-0 deficit in north London tonight.

The result was also the ideal preparation for Barca ahead of Saturday’s ‘El Clasico’ against Madrid at the Bernabeu, where the Catalan club defend an eight-point lead at the top of the Primera Division standings.

Shakhtar had history against them coming into the clash with only three clubs ever having previously managed to overturn a four-goal first-leg deficit in UEFA competition, while on Saturday the Ukrainian champions suffered their first home defeat since October 2008 after going down 1-0 to 10-man Obolon Kyiv.

Despite that loss, Shakhtar still boasted a hugely impressive record at the Donbass Arena, where they had won 32 of 35 matches since moving there in September 2009, and Mircea Lucescu’s side were determined not to give Barca an easy ride.

They created a great opening in the eighth minute when Jadson’s clever pass put Douglas in, but he could not beat Victor Valdes.

The home side continued to push and Jadsen had two efforts which, fortunately for Barca, were straight at Valdes. Barca stayed calm though, and soon enough they were causing problems for the Shakhtar defence.

Messi spurned a magnificent chance in the 31st minute when faced with just Andriy Pyatov to beat.

However, although the Shakhtar goalkeeper came out on top on that occasion, he was left grasping at thin air 12 minutes later when Messi put Barca ahead with his ninth goal in this season’s Champions League. The Argentina international received a return pass from Dani Alves on the edge of the Shakhtar area before making his way into the box and, after riding a challenge, fired a low shot inside Pyatov’s near post.

That goal wiped out Shakhtar’s away strike from the first leg and all but ended any slim hopes they had of creating a huge upset. However, the home side refused to give up and they almost drew level on the stroke of half-time with a Jadsen free-kick that Valdes did well to tip over.

Valdes produced an even better stop in the 73rd minute to keep out Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who had spun well on the edge of the box but saw his rasping drive brilliantly parried over one-handed by the Barca number one.

With Shakhtar beaten, however, it’s now all about getting Real for Barca.

SHAKHTAR DONETSK: Pyatov, Kobin, Ischenko, Rakitskiy, Shevchuk, Hubschman (Fernandinho 75), Mkhitaryan, Douglas Costa (Eduardo 58), Jadson, Willian, Luiz Adriano (Moreno 66).

BARCELONA: Valdes, Dani Alves, Busquets, Pique (Milito 70), Adriano Correia, Xavi (Pedro 66), Mascherano, Keita, Afellay, Messi, Villa (Jeffren 75).

Referee: Florian Meyer (RSV Braunschweig).

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