Lionel Messi’s ability to use his scintillating brilliance to win matches of the stature of FC Barcelona’s 3-0 victory over FC Bayern München in Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg is reason that he is already an all-time football icon. However there are other things about the 27-year-old Argentinian which add to his cachet. For example the explosion of joy which he exhibits when a truly special goal flows from his boot, or the eruption of affection and appreciation from his team mates when Messi transforms a complicated match into an historic triumph – these, too, are iconic because of the shared joy for the spectator in watching a maestro reap the rewards for his excellence.
The striker’s starring role in Barça’s remarkable defeat of Josep Guardiola’s Bayern, built on the foundations of two Messi goals and his added-time assist for Neymar, caused the most exuberant celebrations from him his team mates since Barcelona won the UEFA Champions League at Wembley in 2011.
Afterwards Messi told UEFA.com that it was not personal joy, or pride which sparked his ecstasy but pleasure in a superb team performance reaping the biggest reward.
Messi said: “My celebration came because I was delighted about what that goal meant in terms of the match and the tie. We’ve [Barcelona] have had matches before where we simply couldn’t score despite our chances.
“So I celebrated like that because we’d managed to open the scoring, which was vital for the tie. Happily we then we even managed to score two more!
Partly that mood was patent relief at a stern test superseded, partly to do with respect for the job of work which remains in Bavaria on Tuesday. Barcelona’s No10 believs that he and his team-mates have been through a test of fire.
Messi said: “That was definitely a very complicated match. It’s the semi-final of the Champions League, against an opponent with terrific players in their ranks. Bayern also like to have possession of the ball, and thus they play similarly to us.
“Getting the opener and establishing the lead was so difficult for us and then the others came so quickly afterwards all of which constituted a super result to take into the return leg. It’s precisely what we wanted to achieve tonigh”
Messi’s first was a powerful drive from distance – into Manuel Neuer’s left hand corner. The second, a moment of personal genius, skipping to the right of Jérôme Boateng and then lofting the ball past Neuer with his lesser-used foot, the right.
“The referee absolutely took the right decision there and then I just did what was normal – what I needed to do, I just reacted in the situation – when the ball was with me I continued playing!”
The only time Barcelona have knocked Bayern out of Europe, back in 2009, they took a four-goal margin from Camp Nou and added a firm 1-1 draw in the second leg. Asked whether he agreed with Guardiola’s pre-match argument that if Bayern didn’t score it would be next to ‘impossible’ to reach the final, Messi was cautious.
He stated: “I don’t know that I agree with him. It’s true that we’ve now got a good result here to take to Germany. Nevertheless we know it will be difficult in Munich, and Bayern have been performing very strongly there. Three-nil is a good result, but we still have to go to the second leg and believe in ourselves.”