Champions League - Barca swagger past Stuttgart

Eurosport - Wed, 17 Mar 21:35:00 2010

An imperious display from Lionel Messi inspired Barcelona to a 4-0 victory over Stuttgart in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie at the Nou Camp as the holders prevailed 5-1 on aggregate.

Lionel Messi Barcelona - 0

An incisive run and rasping strike from the diminutive Argentine gave Pep Guardiola's side the lead in the 13th minute, before Pedro rounded off a slick move orchestrated by the forward to give the Spanish champions a two-goal cushion nine minutes later.

Messi clinched his brace on the hour mark with a deft swivel and shot in one swift motion to beat Jens Lehmann at his near post, and Barcelona's emphatic progression through to the quarter-finals was assured as substitute Bojan Krkic scored with his first touch late on.

Guardiola controversially confined 40 million striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic to the substitutes' bench as Thierry Henry was preferred in attack, while midfielder Xavi was sidelined due to a calf injury as the Spanish champions looked to build on their away goal following the 1-1 draw in Germany.

Barcelona dominated possession early on as the visitors were barely afforded a touch, but the first real opening came at the other end in the seventh minute as Pavel Pogrebnyak almost stole in beyond the hosts' defence, only for Dani Alves to zip across and swiftly intervene with an impeccable challenge.

Veteran goalkeeper Lehmann reacted to fumbling a fierce speculative effort from Lionel Messi by changing his gloves at the back of his goal, but seconds later the German was picking the ball out of his net.

Messi cut inside at pace from the right and unleashed a stunning strike from range to pick out the top corner of the Stuttgart net with consummate ease and send the Nou Camp into raptures.

Another sumptuous move from the hosts culminated in more Messi magic: a delightful dinked pass from the forward found Yaya Toure at the left byline, and his pinpoint cross enabled Pedro to tap home from close range in the 22nd minute.

Christian Gross's increasingly despondent side were forced to chase shadows for much of the remainder of the half as Barcelona stroked the ball around mesmerically to the delight of the home crowd.

The second half began in predictable fashion with Andres Iniesta and Sergi Busquets dictating the play from deep with Messi proving an evasive and altogether uncontainable presence dropping off Pedro and Henry.

Toure should have made it three in the 55th minute after Messi hurtled down the left, leaving his two markers utterly bewildered with a deft cut-back to the onrushing midfielder, who proceeded to drag his shot wide of the far post.

But the tie was effectively ended as a contest in the 60th minute after a neat back-heel from Alves found Messi, whose sharp turn opened up the goal for a sublime finish beyond Lehmann. It was the forward's fourth strike in seven Champions League matches this campaign.

The atmosphere was relatively subdued after the break as the level of Barcelona's dominance provoked an entirely nonchalant reaction from the crowd, but Ibrahimovic's belated entrance in the 66th minute prompted a roar from the home fans.

Messi came agonisingly close to sealing his hat-trick in the 67th minute after Pedro skipped down the right and drifted over a pinpoint cross to the Argentine, but this time he was thwarted by Lehmann, who made a stunning save down low to his left.

Wave after wave of Barcelona pressure was defied by the visitors' weary, yet dogged, defence in the closing stages before Bojan latched on to Ibrahimovic's crisp through ball before beating Lehmann to cap a dreamy display from the hosts.

Barcelona could hardly have looked more convincing or classy as they sealed their place in the last eight of Europe's elite, and there will be one name in the hat which every other team will be desperate to avoid.

Dan Quarrell / Eurosport

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