Sublime Messi sinks Arsenal
As the chants of "Messi! Messi! Messi!" rang out around the Nou Camp on Tuesday, Barcelona's progress into the Champions League semi-finals had almost been reduced to a detail in the Argentina forward's ongoing football master class.
If it was Barca's team play that ripped Arsenal to shreds in the first hour of last week's first leg, which ended 2-2, it was Messi's sublime talent that propelled Pep Guardiola's side to a 6-3 aggregate victory and set up a clash with Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan.
The Londoners nosed ahead through Nicklas Bendtner in the 18th minute but from then on it was all about Messi, who produced goals of sheer class in the 21st, 37th and 42nd minutes to all but kill off the visitors' hopes.
With two minutes of regular time remaining, the 22-year-old FIFA World Player of the Year completed his virtuoso display after pouncing on a rebound to drill the ball through the legs of Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia.
Image: Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring a goal
'We started badly but ended in spectacular fashion'
The stunning haul took his tally in the competition to eight, putting him top of the scoring chart ahead of Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo, and added to his 26 La Liga goals this season.
"We started badly but ended in spectacular fashion," a euphoric Messi told Spanish television.
"I am very pleased but the important thing is that the team keeps winning," he added.
Image: Lionel Messi celebrates with team-mates
Bendtner strikes the first blood
Barca seized early control of possession at a packed Nou Camp and Messi tested Almunia with a fierce drive in the fourth minute and sent a curling strike whistling just over the crossbar shortly after.
It was a sign of things to come but the visitors silenced the home fans with a breakaway goal.
Abou Diaby robbed Gabriel Milito in midfield and as the Barca players appealed for a foul Theo Walcott raced clear on the right and set Dane Bendtner up to score at the second attempt past Victor Valdes.
Image: Nicklas Bendtner scores the opening goal
Cool finish by Messi
The goal seemed to fire Barca into action and they were level within three minutes when Messi picked up a loose ball on the edge of the area and lashed a shot through a crowd of defenders into the top corner.
He made no mistake with a cool finish high into the net from close range after Pedro's smart layoff to put Barca ahead on the night and his third goal shortly after was the pick of the four.
Image: Messi scores past Almunia
Poor defence cost Arsenal dearly
Seydou Keita nodded the ball into his path, catching the Arsenal defence flatfooted, and as Almunia advanced to meet him Messi scooped the ball over the Spaniard and into the empty net.
Arsenal made a better fist of things in the second half, enjoying more of the ball in the central areas, but rarely threatened the Barca goal and Pedro went close in the 72nd with a chipped effort that flew just wide.
As Arsenal tired, Messi struck again in the 88th, twisting one way and another through the defence before beating Almunia for a fourth time.
Image: Gael Clichy and Mikael Silvestre
Sneijder eases Inter into CL semis
Dutch playmaker Wesley Sneijder propelled Inter Milan to their first Champions League semi-final since 2003 with an early goal that secured a 1-0 victory over CSKA Moscow in their second leg quarter-finals clash on Tuesday.
Sneijder fired the Italians ahead less than six minutes into the game when his low 20-metre free kick skidded under CSKA's defensive wall and evaded goalkeeper Igor Akinfeyev.
With Inter holding a 1-0 lead from the first leg, Sneijder's goal all but killed the home team's chances as the Italian champions held firm for a comfortable 2-0 win on aggregate.
CSKA's Nigerian defender Chidi Odiah was sent off in the 49th minute after he picked up his second yellow card after a foul on Samuel Eto'o.
Image: Wesley Sneijder reacts after scoring the goal
'The plan was to score before them'
When quizzed about the game plan, Inter coach Jose Mourinho said: "The plan was to score before them.
"In the first leg we had 10 shots before scoring, today we scored on our first shot and the tie is in the pocket. After that, the game was easy to control," he added.
"You could see emotionally the CSKA players were down after giving up that goal and we just had to control the tempo," he added.
CSKA coach Leonid Slutsky conceded the early goal effectively settled the tie.
"We prepared a whole system how to play them," Slutsky, dubbed the "Russian Mourinho" by local media for his tactical approach, told a news conference. "But it was all out the window when they scored after just six minutes."
Image: Wesley Sneijder
Sneijder was a doubtful starter
Mourinho started Tuesday's game with the same three-pronged attack, consisting of Eto'o, Diego Milito and Goran Pandev, with Sneijder just behind them, just like he did against Chelsea in the return leg of the previous round in London, where Inter also won 1-0.
Sneijder's participation had been in doubt after he hurt his left ankle in Monday's training, while Inter's Brazilian central defender Lucio was back in the starting line-up after being suspended for the first leg. His midfield compatriot Thiago Motta was missing due to a thigh injury.
Meanwhile CSKA, already without suspended midfielders Milos Krasic and Yevgeny Aldonin, also lost central defender Vasily Berezutsky early in the first half with a thigh injury.
The match was played amid high security after 40 people were killed in last week's two bomb blasts in the Moscow metro.
Image: Wesley Sneijder and Jose Mourinho