Pedro celebrates after scoring against Paris Saint-Germain during the Champions League quarter-final second leg match, at Camp Nou, on Wednesday. (Reuters)
Barcelona: A clearly ailing Lionel Messi came off the bench to galvanise Barcelona and help salvage a 1-1 draw with Paris St Germain on Wednesday which put the favourites through to the Champions League semi-finals for a sixth straight season.
The Argentine World Player of the Year, top scorer in Europe's elite club competition the past four seasons, had only been given the all-clear shortly before kick-off after damaging a hamstring in the quarter final first leg 2-2 draw last week.
Coach Tito Vilanova decided to keep him in reserve but he was forced when Javier Pastore raced clear to give the Ligue 1 side a shock lead five minutes after half-time.
Messi replaced an ineffectual Cesc Fabregas in the 62nd minute and the buzz was palpable among almost 100,000 Barca fans packed into the giant arena on a balmy night in the Catalan capital.
Although struggling for fitness and lacking his customary zip, Messi’s entrance immediately settled his teammates’ nerves and restored their sense of urgency.
With Barca laying siege to the PSG goal and roared on by the home faithful, he fed David Villa who clipped a short pass to Pedro for his Spain teammate to lash a shot past Salvatore Sirigu from the edge of the area.
The visitors mounted several desperate attacks in a tense finale but Barca held on reasonably comfortably to advance on away goals and keep their bid for a third European crown in five years firmly on track. “Messi made a big effort to be with us,” Pedro said.
“He worked very hard this week and was able to help out the team when he came on,” added the 25-year-old.
“We want to thank him, and say congratulations for everything he did to get himself ready for the game and to help the team. He's the No. 1.
“We felt his presence when he came on the pitch, he lifted us and we got the result.”
“Even if he is half lame, his presence on the pitch is enough to lift us and our play in general,” added Gerard Pique, one of nine in the starting lineup against PSG.
“At this point he doesn't have any physical problems,” assistant coach Jordi Roura told a news conference.
Ambitious Paris St Germain’s performance will help the club attract more of the world’s best players, club president Nasser al Khelaifi said. “When we bought the club a lot of people were not believing in our project. Now I think that this (Barcelona) game can attract great players to PSG,” Al Khelaifi said.
Ibrahimovic, who joined from AC Milan in July, said PSG’s exploits “had earned us more respect throughout Europe”. “We proved that this team is not just a joke,” he said. “I hope that we’ll come back stronger. The team have improved a lot.”
PSG started the second leg against Barca with 10 players who joined the club in the last 18 months.
Coach Carlo Ancelotti also joined during that time and has moulded a team who are all but certain to clinch their first French crown since 1994.
The Italian believes PSG have now forged an “identity”.
“We showed solidity, character and most importantly an identity. It's something that takes time, which is very hard to create,” he said.
Meanwhile, an unflappable Bayern Munich reached the semi-finals as Juventus were given a harsh reminder of the gap between themselves and Europe’s elite after their campaign fizzled out in a 2-0 home defeat.
The German side, 2-0 ahead from the first leg, survived a predictably furious Juventus start and by the end were strolling to a 4-0 aggregate win against the team which has dominated Serie A for the last 18 months.
Second-half goals from Mario Mandzukic and Claudio Pizarro silenced the Juventus stadium and kept the Bavarians, who were crowned Bundesliga champions with six games to spare on Saturday, on course for the treble.
Juventus, backed by a raucous crowd at their sparkling new stadium, huffed and puffed but were not quite creative enough to cause Bayern more than the odd scare.
Juventus had not lost a home European team since they were beaten 4-1 by the same opponents in 2009-10, and it was a reminder for that despite their domestic dominance, they still have some way before they can challenge for Europe’s top honour.
Their exit left Serie A without a representative in the semi-finals for the second year running while Bayern joined compatriots Borussia Dortmund and Spanish duo Real Madrid and Barcelona in the last four.