PEP Guradiola said it before the game and he was right on the money. You can’t stop Lionel Messi. Guardiola’s return to Barcelona was heading towards a high tempo stalemate at the Nou Camp after 76 minutes filled with misfiring strikers and the mighty Manuel Neuer.
The world No. 1 netminder dealt with just about everything Messi, Suarez and Neymar could throw at him and saved Guardiola’s blushes on several occasions.
But when the game seemed to be fading towards full-time without a goal, Messi unleashed a thunderbolt from 25 yards.
It was the first time Messi had scored against Neuer and within three minutes, he did it again with an even better dinked goal – leaving a floundering Jerome Boateng on his backside.
Neymar joined the party with a third in added time and Guardiola looked like a beaten man as he trudged disconsolately into the tunnel at the final whistle.
On the day Barcelona emerged in second place behind Real Madrid in the Forbes richest football club list and Bayern Munich a fast rising fourth, the two clubs generally acknowledged as the best in Europe at the moment came out to play and defied the usual form in Champions League semi-finals.
Instead of a tough, cagey battle, both teams set up to attack at every opportunity and when 22 players are committed to a high tempo, attacking game, something had to give.
As it happened, Barca rapidly established superiority and snuffed out any hope that Guardiola might have entertained that his players could match their hosts pass for pass.
As early as the seventh minute, Guardiola’s commitment to chasing down an away goal left Bayern badly exposed at the back when Luis Suarez picked up a long ball and was only stopped from giving Barca an early lead by the long, outstretched leg of Neuer.
Seven minutes later, Suarez caused havoc when he broke into the box on the right and squared for Neymar. The Brazilian was six yards out and should have scored but his shot hit Rafinha and squirted away for a corner.
To be fair to Bayern, they never hesitated to pour forward when the conditions were right but their best outlet was always Robert Lewandowski
In the 18th minute, the big Polish hitman somehow managed to miss when a cross from the right from Thomas Müller found him virtually unmarked but when it looked easier to score, he miskicked and screwed a shot wide.
By now, Guardiola had made running repairs and shored up his defence, a clear admission he got it wrong in the first place but a move which helped his players considerably and eased the pressure.
The flow of chances petered out but not before Iniesta floated a wonderful ball over the top of Bayern’s retreating defence and put Danny Alves in with Neuer to beat. Again, the man mountain stood firm and cleared with his feet.
No change in tempo after the break, with Barca still committed to outright attack and Bayern Munich defending deep and well enough to make Luis Enrique begin to regret the chances missed.
He need not have worried. With Messi in your team, anything is possible and with home fans looking nervously at their watches, up stepped the little wizard to smash the ball home.
That came in the 77th minute and within three more, Messi was celebrating again before Neymar made it 3-0 to make next week’s second leg an almost impossible task for Guardiola and his team.