Lionel Messi inspired FC Barcelona to a 5-1 victory over Panathinaikos FC with two magical goals, two assists and an evening of tremendous football that almost matched his majestic four-goal destruction of Arsenal FC in last season's quarter-final second leg.
Despite trailing to an early Sidney Govou strike, Messi, David Villa, Pedro Rodríguez and Daniel Alves tore the visitors' defence to shreds and could easily have hit eight or nine.
When the Greek champions opened the scoring in the 20th minute it was as if they wanted to win and outdazzle the hosts. Alexandros Tzorvas kicked long, Djibril Cissé used his heel to volley a pass that sent compatriot Govou scampering free of a third Frenchman, Éric Abidal, and Govou fired powerfully past Víctor Valdés. The travelling fans went wild with delight.
The moment was stylish but interrupted a pattern of outstanding, incessant and sometimes brilliant football from Barcelona. If not for first-class work from Tzorvas, Nikos Nioplias's team would have been on the canvas within 11 minutes. Messi threatened immediately with a diving header from Pedro's cross, then the little magician helped Andrés Iniesta set up Xavi Hernández from close range yet Tzorvas excelled.
After Govou's marvellous impudence, Barça struck back imperiously. Barely two minutes later Xavi's lovely pass allowed Messi to open his body position and use that famous left boot to dink the ball home. That intensified Barcelona's relentless passing although it took a set play, Xavi's corner that was flicked on by Sergio Busquets, to let Villa add a second at the back post in the 33rd minute.
However, the half would not be complete without another Messi conjuring trick. Minutes before the break he rocked the goal frame violently with a thunderous effort off the crossbar, then produced a moment that will live long in the memory. Picking up an inside pass from Alves, Messi improvised two exquisite wall-passes – working a one-two with Xavi, then another with Pedro – to split Jean-Alain Boumsong and Cédric Kanté in central defence before celebrating a sublime goal.
Even the fact he failed with a second-half penalty, saved remarkably easily by Tzorvas ten minutes after half-time, took nothing away from the Messi masterclass. With the points won and Josep Guardiola taking the chance to change his team around, the No10 skipped around Tzorvas and rolled in a shot that bounced off both posts; Pedro was on hand to nudge in the fourth. And when Alves headed a cheeky fifth, it was that man Messi with the clever assist and the perfect end to his superb night.
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