Messi stars as Barcelona beat Napoli to advance

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Lionel Messi scored as Barcelona beat Napoli to progress to the last eight
Lionel Messi scored as Barcelona beat Napoli to progress to the last eight
  • Barcelona set up a Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich after overcoming Napoli on a night of high VAR drama at the Nou Camp.

    With the tie evenly poised at 1-1 after February’s first leg, Dries Mertens set the tone for an incident-packed first half, striking the post for the visitors after 90 seconds.

    But it was five-time European champions Barcelona who made the breakthrough when Clement Lenglet headed in Ivan Rakitic’s corner after 10 minutes.

    Lionel Messi doubled his side’s advantage in style as he wriggled past three defenders, before bending a shot between another two Napoli players and into the far side of David Ospina’s goal.

    The Barcelona captain thought he had further added to his tally of 115 Champions League goals in 142 games just seven minutes later, but a lengthy video assistant referee review deemed he had handled the ball in controlling Frenkie de Jong’s pass.

    Another VAR review then awarded Barcelona a penalty in first-half injury time after Kalidou Koulibaly felled Messi – and Luis Suarez stepped up to net his 25th Champions League goal.

    Bayern thrash Chelsea to set up Barca quarter-final

Napoli substitute Arkadiusz Milik was on the pitch for less than two minutes when he headed past Ter Stegen with time running out for the visitors, but the Poland striker’s goal was ruled out for offside.

German champions Bayern Munich await Barca in the last eight after beating Chelsea 4-1 on Saturday to complete a 7-1 aggregate victory.

It was Napoli who had the final say at the end of an entertaining first half, however, as Rakitic conceded a penalty for a foul on Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne converted to make it 3-1 at the interval.

In a significantly quieter second period, Insigne’s header early in the half failed to test Marc-Andre ter Stegen as Napoli chased a lifeline, while Kostas Manolas was at full stretch to deny Suarez the chance to put Barcelona out of sight.

Napoli substitute Arkadiusz Milik was on the pitch for less than two minutes when he headed past Ter Stegen with time running out for the visitors, but the Poland striker’s goal was ruled out for offside.

German champions Bayern Munich await Barca in the last eight after beating Chelsea 4-1 on Saturday to complete a 7-1 aggregate victory.

“This was the first forward step we wanted and now it is to be hoped we play the matches in front of us with the same attitude which we demonstrated here,” Barcelona manager Quique Setien said.

“The team played well and we deserved this. All the rivals who are left are strong and there are only complicated matches left. It will be tough for us but for Bayern too. They’re a great side but so are we.”

Messi stars as Setien secures important victory

Quique Setien and Gennaro Gattuso
Barcelona manager Quique Setien (right) and Napoli counterpart Gennaro Gattuso

Barcelona boss Setien was adamant in the build-up to Saturday’s game that “at no point” had he considered his side’s second leg against Napoli could be his final match in charge.

There could, however, be little doubt that a Champions League exit at the last-16 stage, following a disappointing domestic campaign, would have seen his position fall under serious threat.

Ex-Real Betis boss Setien was hired as Ernesto Valverde’s replacement in January to reintroduce the free-flowing, possession-based brand synonymous with the club, but he failed to inspire his players to a third successive league title, or beyond the Copa del Rey quarter-finals.

Manager Gennaro Gattuso said his Napoli side were “going to have to climb Everest” to progress against Barcelona at the Nou Camp and they appeared up for the challenge, as Mertens delivered an early wake-up call to the hosts.

It took Lenglet’s opener to settle Barcelona, for whom once again it was Messi who made the difference when it mattered.

Though there was an element of fortune to the run which preceded his fine finish – the Argentine stumbling between challenges – his commitment to the cause drew the error from Koulibaly which allowed Suarez to put the tie beyond Napoli.

Barcelona have not tasted success in Europe’s elite competition since 2015, but progress into the latter stages is a minimum requirement.

A potentially crucial victory for Setien extends Barca’s streak of having not failed to qualify for the Champions League quarter-finals since 2007, but as the competition moves to a one-game knockout format in Portugal, his side will be without the comfort of the Nou Camp where they are now unbeaten in their past 36 Champions League home games.

Undoubtedly, Barcelona – and Messi – will need to be at the top of their game to defeat an in-form Bayern.

Reflecting on defeat, Napoli boss Gattuso said: “We have a lot to regret, we disappeared for half an hour and conceded incredible goals. I am angry we conceded from a set piece.

“We didn’t have enough consistency, even though we started well and could have scored in the opening minutes. My players are strong, but to become even better they need to improve in their attitude. I am disappointed, I believe we could have done better.”