Despite a shaky start the Catalans took the lead in the 10th minute with a powerful header by Clement Lenglet from a corner kick before Messi stepped up the pace and scored a typical Messi-magical-touch superb second goal in the 23rd, brilliantly out-weaving four defenders converged menacingly around him, was brought down by an extended leg from one of the defenders, scrambled up immediately and instinctively let loose a slightly curling left-footed shot into the left corner of the goal that he saw was unguarded, and all this just as he was about to be brought down again.
It was sheer Messi magic at its most sublime, as if the man had more feet than all those of the defenders scrambling desperately around him, all sensing the imminent danger and real threat that Messi posed.
The inspired Messi had the ball in the net again soon after following a superb pass he had intercepted with his chest but the goal was harshly ruled out for a highly controversial handball by the Argentine following a VAR review. Undaunted and unstoppable, Messi later won a penalty which Luis Suarez unerringly converted for Barca’s third.
Napoli managed to up the ante and got one back when Lorenzo Insigne converted a spot kick at the end of the first half and were definitely the better side after the interval but the Barca boys pluckily survived the onslaught by Gatuso’s valiant warriors to set up a mouth-watering clash with Bayern in the Final Eight tournament in Lisbon with the new format next Friday.
Messi himself had raised the alarm after Barca’s sloppy performance in the 1-1 draw in the first leg back in February, saying they stood no chance of winning Europe’s top prize, which has eluded them since 2015, unless they improved, and he again sounded the alarm in the recent Premier League clash against Osasuna and took his teammates to task for their mediocre performance.
Possibly anxious and worried by Barca’s stuttering start which saw Napoli swarm all over the home side’s area from the kick-off and Dries Mertens clipping the crossbar in the second minute with a scuffed shot, Messi charged to the rescue after Clement’s goal to save the day again for the Catalans.
Napoli’s slack defending had allowed Lenglet to score with a decisive header which settled Barca’s nerves while Messi effectively killed the tie off with his goal and by winning the penalty by chasing down Kalidou Koulibaly in the area and earning a foul.
However, at the end of the day, the fact that Napoli was in possession and control of the ball so dominantly in the second half, with Hirving Lozano hitting the post and Arkadiusz Milik’s header ruled out for offside, would give sufficient cause for concern to the Barca side, and their iconic talisman, that the Catalonians would perhaps struggle to beat Bayern, who magnificently thrashed Chelsea 7-1 on aggregate.
Messi the magician will have to rise to the occasion again next weekend with his wizardry.