Record man Messi hits five for Barcelona
BARCELONA - Lionel Messi at his breathtaking best tore Bayer Leverkusen apart with a record five-goal Champions League haul on Wednesday as Barcelona swept into the quarter-finals 7-1 on the night and 10-2 on aggregate.
The Argentine World Player of the Year became the first player to score five in a Champions League match. Substitute Cristian Tello scored twice as the holders equalled the biggest victory margin in the knockout stages of the competition.
Messi, who did not appear to have a bead of sweat on him after the match at the Nou Camp, took his tally to 12 goals in seven Champions League appearances this term, equalling the record for a single season he shares with former Manchester United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy.
All five strikes against a hapless Leverkusen, including brilliant dinked efforts with either foot, showcased the stunning skills honed in Barca's youth academy that have won him the World Player award for the past three years.
"The important thing is what the team did and that we qualified for the next round," a typically modest Messi said in a television interview.
"It's nice to score five but winning was the priority," added the 24-year-old, clutching the match ball and smiling shyly.
After they lost last month's round of 16 first leg in Leverkusen 3-1, the Bundesliga side's mission impossible was effectively ended when Messi sped on to Xavi's lofted pass and brilliantly scooped the ball over Bernd Leno in the 25th minute.
He added a second with a trademark run across the defence and low shot three minutes before halftime and completed his hat-trick with another stunning chip, this time with his right foot, four minutes after the break.
Tello netted twice either side of Messi's fourth, which came after Leno spilled the ball at his feet, and the Argentine wizard bagged his fifth with a powerful strike six minutes from time before Leverkusen substitute Karim Bellarabi scored in added time.
Messi has been enjoying a purple patch in recent weeks, even by his lofty standards, and Wednesday's goals mean he has scored 14 in his last five matches for club and country.
He has netted an astonishing 30 goals in his last 25 Champions League games, including four against Arsenal in 2010, and has 48 in 42 matches in all competitions this season.
"He is a unique player," Barca coach Pep Guardiola told a news conference.
"Scoring five goals is not easy but if Leo sets himself the task of scoring six one day he will certainly do it"
Guardiola's Leverkusen counterpart Robin Dutt cut a lonely figure on the touchline in the second half as he watched his side struggling to compete with the Spanish, European and world champions.
The aggregate result equalled the biggest Champions League defeat suffered by a German team after Werder Bremen also lost 10-2 over two legs against Lyon in the 2004-05 season.
"There is no question that a reverse of that magnitude really hurts," Dutt said. "There are scarcely words to describe the way Messi plays.
"Barcelona are the best team in the world even without Messi but with him they are almost in another galaxy.
"We didn't need this evening to prove that Barcelona are the best team that I have ever seen play.
"I think that all the other teams on the continent have a great deal of work to do before they can reach the same level."
Despite their team's drubbing, the 4,000 travelling Leverkusen fans high up in the giant arena remained in fine voice until the end and Bellarabi's goal was some reward for their efforts to drown out the 75,000-strong home support enjoying the exploits of their hero.
Manchester United beat AS Roma 7-1 in the home leg of their 2007 Champions League quarter-final and Bayern Munich crushed Sporting by the same score in the first knockout round in 2009.
(Editing by John Mehaffey)