BARCELONA: FC Barcelona are on the brink of reaching their eighth European Cup showpiece after finally breaking FC Bayern München’s resistance in the last 13 minutes of this UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg, Lionel Messi scoring two goals before creating a late third for Neymar.
In a pulsating first half, Barcelona largely held the upper hand and Bayern had cause to be grateful to goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who saved one-on-ones with Luis Suárez and Daniel Alves to keep the score blank at the break.
Robert Lewandowski had spurned an equally presentable opening for the visitors, yet just when it was starting to look like they would escape unscathed, Messi making his 100th European appearance eventually found a way through 13 minutes from time.
Three minutes later his sublime control and delicate chip made it 2-0 before the No10’s added-time pass released Neymar to roll in a third.
Josep Guardiola, making his first return to the Camp Nou in the opposition ranks, opted to play three at the back, marking man for man from the off.
The policy nearly backfired as Suárez latched onto Messi’s flick from Marc-André ter Stegen’s kick and bore down on Neuer unchallenged but the goalkeeper’s outstretched right leg blocked his shot.
Moments later Suárez wriggled free inside the penalty area and found Neymar at the far post; Bayern’s Rafinha deflected the effort behind and that was the cue for the Bundesliga champions to switch to a more familiar back four.
Guardiola had been able to call on Robert Lewandowski despite the forward suffering jaw and nose injuries the previous week and, though the Pole was anonymous early on, he took centre stage in the 18th minute only to fluff his lines.
Thomas Müller won possession and his cross picked out the unmarked Lewandowski; the striker was unable to apply the finishing touch.
That scare aside, Barcelona beaten 7-0 on aggregate by Bayern in their last UEFA Champions League semi-final in 2013 seemed the more likely, Suárez nodding over from a corner.
Six minutes before the interval Bayern were caught out again as Andrés Iniesta lifted a wonderful pass over their defence. Alves controlled on his chest; again Neuer blocked with his legs.
Bayern began the second period on the front foot yet it was the home side who continued to appear the more dangerous. Messi traded passes with Neymar to create space to shoot; Neuer was right behind it.
The goalkeeper then watched Neymar’s attempt sail over after Ivan Rakitić had fed the Brazilian.
Barcelona, and Messi, would not be denied, however. Alves did the legwork for the 77th-minute breakthrough, robbing Juan Bernat and finding Messi; the forward duly fired inside Neuer’s near post.
With Bayern rocking, the Blaugrana maestro capitalised again moments later, collecting Rakitić’s pass and leaving Jérôme Boateng floundering before clipping over Neuer.
Bayern’s hopes were hanging by a thread, and they all but disappeared in the closing seconds. Messi’s ball sent Neymar clear of the visiting rearguard and this time Neuer had no answer as a composed finish left Barça with one foot in the final.