Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Lionel Messi, who will one day go down as the greatest player of all time, put in a stunning, dominant performance to remember on Wednesday, as the diminutive Argentine led Barcelona to a 3-0 victory over Bayern Munich and former-Barca manager Pep Guardiola in the first leg of the two sides’ UEFA Champions League semifinal tie.
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If not for a Herculean first-half performance by Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, the tie might have been well and truly over before the halftime of the first leg. The German international, widely regarded as the world’s best ‘keeper, made five saves in total, including the following three which looked to be sure goals if not for the 29-year-old’s interventions.
Luis Suarez had the game’s first golden chance after Messi’s through ball put the Uruguayan nearly 10 yards behind the Bayern defense and one on one with Neuer. Suarez raced into the 18-yard box and fired a right-footed shot toward the far post, but Neuer came up with the stunning kick save.
Neuer came up huge again in the 39th minute, this time saving a point-blank effort from Dani Alves after Andres Iniesta chipped a through ball over the top of the Bayern defense, onto the chest of Alves who quickly volleyed eight yards out.
[ WATCH IT AGAIN: Messi’s stunning second goal, embarrassment of Boateng ]
Messi’s first decent shooting opportunity didn’t arrive until the 57th minute, when Neymar put the Argentine superstar into a half-yard of space which was all Messi needed to fire a left-footed rocket straight into the chest of Neuer, who saved and held the shot after a short initial bobble.
Neuer’s one suspect moment provided Barcelona their first goal, as Messi’s left-footed strike from outside the penalty area beat Neuer inside his near post and found the back of the net in the 77th minute.
Messi doubled Barca’s lead three minutes later, but not before turning Jerome Boateng inside-out and sending the hulking German defender to the floor in a heaping pile of shame and defeat. From there, Messi raced in on Neuer, who went to ground quickly to cover both posts, forcing Messi into a delicate, right-footed chip over the outstretched arms of Neuer. The ball, as it often does off the foot of Messi, found the back of the net (WATCH HERE).
Neymar added a third for Barca three minutes into second-half stoppage time, perhaps putting the tie to bed. Messi’s through ball played the Brazilian wonder kid behind the Bayern defense, where he bore down on Neuer and slid the ball, easily, underneath the Bayern ‘keeper.
The second leg will be played next Tuesday at the Allianz Arena in Munich, with Guardiola’s side needing to erase a three-goal deficit in order to reach their second Champions League final in three seasons.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen, Alves, Pique, Mascherano (Bartra 89′), Alba, Rakitic (Xavi 82′), Busquets, Iniesta (Rafinha 87′), Messi, Suarez, Neymar
Goals: Messi (77′, 80′), Neymar (90+3′)
Bayern Munich: Neuer, Rafinha, Benatia, Boateng, Lahm, Alonso, Thiago, Bernat, Schweinsteiger, Muller (Gotze 79′), Lewandowski