BARCELONA, March 14 (Reuters) - The evening started with one of Lionel Messi’s greatest Champions League games being remembered and ended with the Argentine adding another to his illustrious collection.
“God save the king”, read a banner wielded by Barcelona fans at the start of the game, accompanied by an image of Messi celebrating after the extraordinary 6-1 triumph over Paris St Germain last season.
While Barcelona’s 3-0 last 16 second-leg win over Chelsea on Wednesday to complete a 4-1 aggregate victory did not need to live up to the incredible comeback against PSG, Messi delivered another performance for the ages.
The 30-year-old missed Saturday’s 2-0 win at Malaga after the birth of his third son, Ciro, but returned to fire Barcelona into the quarter-finals with two goals as well as setting up Ousmane Dembele’s first for the club.
Messi broke the deadlock after two minutes and eight seconds, the quickest goal for his career, when he slotted the ball through Thibaut Courtois’ legs from a tight angle.
A majestic solo dribble shredded Chelsea’s defence before Messi played in Dembele for the second and the Argentine maestro killed the tie off when he smashed a third through the legs of Courtois again in the second half.
That was Messi’s 100th goal in the Champions League, becoming only the second player to reach that milestone after Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
“Tonight (and) in the two legs, Lionel Messi made the difference. We are talking about the best player in the world,” Chelsea manager Antonio Conte said.
“We are talking about a player who scores 60 goals every season. We are talking not about a top player but a super top player. He made the difference.”
Messi’s virtuoso display also drew praise from his captain Andres Iniesta.
“As we always say, Leo makes the difference in each game, it’s a blessing to have him,” Iniesta said.
“I hope that we can bring ourselves closer to winning this Champions League. We have taken another step.” (Editing by Ed Osmond)