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Messi's Heroics Destroy Pep's Ambitions

Barcelona hosted Bayern Munich in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final.

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Wednesday afternoon, Barcelona devoured Bayern Munich in their 3-0 win at the Camp Nou. The game was a true nail-biter and had fans on the edge of their seats for 77 minutes, but, once again, Messi showed the blaugrana fans, and anyone else who was watching, why he is the best player in the world.

Barça and Bayern played a high-octane, attack-minded match from minute one. However, it was the Catalan side that dominated in both possession and shots on goal during the first half. Unfortunately, the chances created by Suarez and Neymar were awry.

In spite of these errors, Barcelona played a wonderful first half and were expected to continue their reign, but Pep's men had a different plan.

The start of the second half proved to be difficult for the Spanish side. Bayern Munich came on to the pitch stronger than before and managed to out-pass, out-possess, and, overall, out-play Lucho's men for almost half an hour. Bayern's complete control and strong physical presence frustrated the Barcelona players and led them into a 30-minute period of ill-timed tackles, bad passes, and poorly executed shots on goal.

Inevitably, poor decisions and boiling tempers forced the referee to deal out a plethora of yellow cards, including one to a rather aggressive looking Neymar. The Brazilian, who had already tested the ref, tempted the soccer gods again during the pivotal 77th minute when he went down much too easily inside the 18-yard box. Neymar's incessant diving could've cost Barcelona the match (if you paid close attention to the head official, you may have noticed his right hand reaching for a second yellow), but Manuel Neuer's quick restart not only nulled the referee's decision, it actually led to Barça's opening goal.

When the German sweeper keeper shot the ball towards his first available defender, the player's first touch went astray and directly into the path of the oncoming Dani Alves. The right-back quickly controlled the ball, danced his way between two defenders, and immediately passed the ball to a surprisingly open Messi, who then kissed the ball once to control and shot it low toward the near post.

As the ball grazed its way past Neuer and into the back of the net, the Camp Nou erupted into pandemonium, jubilation, and chants of "Messi. Messi. Messi". With such a beautifully inspired goal from Barça's number 10, and with full respect to Alves, who initially won the ball, it was only a matter of time before the gauntlet completely fell to another magisterial goal.

Ivan Rakitic, who once again proved his worth to the team, received the ball in Bayern's own half and then cut a perfectly weighted ball through two of their best defenders. With the ball at his feet, Leo begins his run towards goal, feigns to the left at the edge of the box, then swiftly moves back to his right while leaving Jerome Boateng planted flat on the floor, chips the ball over the keeper, and scores a brace for the blaugrana.

This second goal may have been enough to seal the coffin on Pep's hope for a Champions League title, but Messi, who decided to add an assist to his record-breaking goals that night, launched the ball forward to Neymar. Once the Brazilian found himself one-on-one with the World Cup winning goalkeeper, it was simply a matter of tapping the ball past his 6'4" frame. It was a moment that the striker surely reveled in, especially since it was the Germans who utterly embarrassed Brazil in last year's World Cup.

Thanks to Messi's heroics, Barcelona are obviously the favorite to make it through to Berlin, but Guardiola isn't one to give up so easily. Next week's second leg will be hard fought and highly intense for both sides, however, with Messi firing on all twelve cylinders, Pep may be fighting an impossible battle against a team that could be even better than the one he created.

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