Thu, Apr 05, 2012 - Page 18 News List

Messi’s brace puts Barca into semis

TOO HOT TO HANDLE:Lionel Messi raised his scoring total this season to 14, a Champions League record, and set up a semi-final clash against either Benfica or Chelsea

AFP, BARCELONA, SPAIN

Barcelona’s Argentine forward Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring his second penalty during a Champions League quarter-final second-leg match against AC Milan at the Camp Nou in Barcelona, Spain, on Tuesday.

Photo: AFP

Lionel Messi scored two first-half penalties in a 3-1 win over AC Milan at the Camp Nou on Tuesday to propel holders Barcelona to a fifth successive Champions League semi-final.

Messi’s brace in the quarter-final second-leg match took him to 51 Champions League goals — at 24 the youngest player to achieve the half-century landmark — and a record total this season of 14, bettering the previous mark held by himself and Ruud van Nistelrooy of 12.

Andres Iniesta’s well-taken goal early in the second half wrapped up the match and Barca will face either Chelsea or Benfica in the semi-finals as they bid to become the first team to retain the trophy since it became the Champions League in the 1992-1993 season.

Antonio Nocerino had pulled a goal back for Milan to level briefly in the first half, but in the end there was no stopping Barcelona emulating the great Real Madrid side of the 1950s in reaching five successive semi-finals.

Barcelona’s 3-1 win saw them comfortably through to the semis after a 0-0 draw in the first leg in Italy.

AC Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri and his players hit out at the referee over the penalty decisions, but Barca coach Pep Guardiola claimed that they were clear cut.

“They were two penalties, if you pull someone in the area then that is what happens,” Guardiola said. “We deserved to go through and I was very happy with the performance for the way that we were able to control the game, especially after the third goal. To have reached the semi-final for the fifth time is something special and it shows the strength of the club. To achieve it for one or two years is excellent, but to do it for five is really amazing.”

“I feel the same about my players whether they had qualified for the next round or not, because they have already achieved so much they do not need to do more to prove themselves to me,” he said. “We were against a team with a lot of experience and prestige, so it was never going to be easy and there were always going to be talking points, but they were two penalties and we did not complain about the ones that weren’t given in the first leg.”

However, Allegri felt that his side were unlucky.

“The penalties were decisive and the second was very debatable. It is never easy to play against Barca, but overall they deserved to win,” he said.

A fired up Messi, who has been the top scorer in the Champions League for the past three seasons, but who had only scored once before against Italian opposition, had three chances inside the first 10 minutes.

The three-time World Footballer of the Year shot straight at the goalkeeper from the edge of the area and then side-footed wide after a delightful link up with Cesc Fabregas.

At the San Siro, Milan had looked composed and managed to disrupt Barca’s usual passing game, but now they were looking edgy, especially at the back.

One error after another led to Barca’s opening goal.

Massimo Ambrosini was dispossessed in midfield by Messi, who tore into the area and then appeared to make the wrong decision in playing the ball back to Xavi. Fullback Luca Antonini dispossessed the Spain international, but then went through the back of Messi and the referee awarded the penalty, which the Argentine dispatched into the corner.

Milan eventually began to settle and scored with their first real chance.

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