Two quick-fire moments of individual magic from Lionel Messi made the difference, and Neymar added a late added goal, as Barcelona beat Bayern Munich 3-0 in Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final first leg at the Camp Nou.
An enthralling tactical battle appeared to be set for a goalless conclusion, when Messi arrowed a 20-yard low shot to the net with just 13 minutes remaining. The Argentinian was not finished there though as he soon twisted into the box and chipped over Bayern keeper Manuel Neuer for a fantastic individual goal.
A patched-up Bayern side had been close to a fantastic away draw, but Messi’s two goals in four minutes had put the Catalan outfit in control of the tie.
Neymar’s injury-time solo effort means Bayern look already in huge trouble ahead of next Tuesday’s second leg in Munich.
“It was a very close, evenly-balanced game; until the end, when clinical finishing tipped it in our favour,” said Barca’s Andres Iniesta last night.
This was a hugely emotional occasion for players on both sides, as ex-Barca coach Pep Guardiola returned to the club where he was a hero as both player and coach, and sat on the Camp Nou away bench for the first time.
Guardiola fielded a defensive looking XI with key players Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery injured, while Robert Lewandowski started wearing a mask to protect broken bones in his face.
But Barca, who began with their ‘Gala XI’ including in-form all South American trio Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar up front, were well on top through the opening stages.
It was immediately clear Bayern had not come to sit back - they pressed right up looking to man- mark all over the pitch. This left Barca’s dangerous attackers with plenty of space to break into, and Suarez was clean through twice in the opening quarter hour.
Both times Germany’s No1 Neuer sprang from his line to save superbly - first with a crazily brave header to get to the ball outside the box, then by blocking with his body when Suarez had time to shoot from closer in.
Messi was also enjoying himself, easily winning his personal battle with Bayern defender Rafinha, a right-back who started the game out of position on the left of a back three. The Argentinian skipped past three markers, but then curled his shot just wide of the far post.
Guardiola moved to fix things however, switching to a back four, and immediately the visitors appeared more comfortable. Thiago, returning to the Camp Nou like his boss, began to find pockets of space in midfield. Lewandowski miscued a cross from Thomas Muller when unmarked six yards out.
Barca came again and Iniesta’s perfect ball over the top was chested down and hit first time by overlapping right-back Alves, but Neuer again saved.
The half-time whistle sounded and everyone breathed for the first time.
Bayern started stronger after the break, with Xabi Alonso and Philipp Lahm more prominent.
Messi wriggled free of a few markers, but found Neuer’s safe hands with his 20 yard shot. More quick footwork from the blaugrana number 10 saw Neymar sent haring behind the skewed Bayern back line, but once again Bayern’s ‘sweeper keeper’ sprang from his line to clear the danger.
The Camp Nou began to quieten as the tension grew. Both coaches stood watching on the edge of their technical areas. Out on the pitch their two tactical schemes were canceling each other out. The home crowd’s frustration showed when they wanted a penalty when Neymar tumbled in the box.
Seconds later though 90,000 blaugrana erupted as Messi arrowed a low 20 yard shot to the net at Neuer’s near post. Messi did not stop there though, and in Barca’s next attack he completely bamboozled Jerome Boateng, before calmly lifting the ball over Neuer with his right-foot. Neymar’s late goal put a gloss on the scoreline, but everyone knew this was Messi’s night.
Subs for Barcelona:
Bartra for Mascherano 88, Xavi for Rakitic 82, Rafinha for Iniesta 86
Subs for Bayern:
Gotze for Muller 78
Nicola Rizzoli (Italy)
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved