Barcelona, March 15 (IANS) A magical performance by Leo Messi — two goals and an assist — vaulted Barcelona into the quarterfinals of the 2017-2018 Champions League with a 3-0 win here over Chelsea in the second leg of their round of 16 tie.
With the score knotted at 1-1 after the first leg in London, both sides knew the importance of scoring the first goal, Efe news reported.
But the Blues found themselves trailing before their first touch on Wednesday, with Messi scoring at close range barely two minutes into the contest to the delight of the 97,000-plus crowd in the stands at Camp Nou.
The Argentine superstar smiled broadly and dedicated the goal to his newborn son, Ciro.
With their original game plan in tatters, Chelsea were forced to go forward behind Eden Hazard and the visitors dominated possession for the next 18 minutes, though the only real threat was a Willian shot that forced a save from Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the 12th minute.
In the 20th minute, however, Messi stole the ball from Cesc Fabregas and blew past Cesar Azpilicueta and Andreas Christensen before he dished off to Ous mane Dembele rushing forward on his right and the Frenchman beat Thibaut Courtois for his first goal in a Barca shirt.
The second goal left Chelsea dazed and only a good stop by Courtois prevented Luis Suarez from making it 3-0 on the night just minutes later.
With 10 minutes left in the first half, the Blues regrouped and went on the attack. N’Golo Kante and Marcos Alonso wasted a pair of good chances, but Alonso did better on a free kick in the 45th, hitting the post.
Chelsea were sharper to start the second half and Courtois thwarted Suarez again in the 48th minute to keep his team alive.
The hosts lost Paulinho and Sergio Busquets to injury in the space of 10 minutes and Barca was looking less capable in possession when Messi rose to the occasion once more, threading the ball through Courtois’ legs in the 64th minute to bring the margin to 3-0 on the night and 4-1 overall.
It was the Argentine’s 100th goal in Champions League play and Barcelona are headed to the tournament quarterfinals for a record 11th consecutive year.