Defender Gerard Piqué singled out Lionel Messi for praise after the Argentina forward struck away against FC Shakhtar Donetsk to complete a 6-1 aggregate victory for an FC Barcelona side who "deserve to be in the semi-finals".
Josep Guardiola's men travelled to the Donbass Arena boasting a 5-1 lead from the opening leg and, although they lacked the fluency displayed on that occasion, they still managed to prevail thanks to Messi's well-taken goal just before half-time. That took the 23-year-old's tally to nine strikes in ten UEFA Champions League outings this term, leaving him on 48 goals in all competitions for Barcelona in 2010/11.
"He is a great player, we all know that," said Piqué. "He won the most recent Ballon d'Or and he deserved it. It's very important for us to have Lionel in our team and I hope he will be in our team for a few more years as well."
Shakhtar took the game to their Spanish visitors early on, with Douglas Costa and Jadson missing excellent chances which, if taken, might have given Barça something to ponder. Ultimately, the Pitmen were unable to prevent home and away defeats, although Piqué was quick to pay tribute to a team that exceeded all expectations in this year's competition.
"They're a really good side, which they showed at Camp Nou, and they played well again today," commented the centre-back. "Hopefully for them, they can build on this experience and perform well in the Champions League next season."
The adventure continues for the victors, of course, with Real Madrid CF being likely opponents in the last four ahead of their decisive meeting tonight with Tottenham Hotspur FC, whom they lead 4-0. Barcelona will not have to wait until then to face their great rivals, though: they are due to visit the Santiago Bernabéu on Saturday, when they will vie to open up an 11-point Liga lead. The clubs also lock horns in the Copa del Rey final next Wednesday.
"First of all, Real Madrid have to get through to the semi-finals," said Spanish international Piqué. "They have a really good chance of getting there as they have a good lead. If they make it, then it's true we'll play four games against them – and we'll try to win all four."
Goalkeeper Víctor Valdés echoed those thoughts, looking forward to some "intense but enjoyable encounters" against the Merengues. "We're obviously very happy to have come through this tie," said the No1. "We put in a huge effort in the first leg and in the end that paved the way for us to advance. I think we're playing even better now than in previous seasons. We're really excited about the Madrid games at the weekend and in the Copa del Rey final."
As for Daniel Alves, he suggested that Barça's ability to triumph at the Donbass Arena proves they are ready for their trip to the Bernabéu. "We've managed to win at what is a very difficult stadium and now we're waiting for Madrid, who haven't yet qualified but who have a foot and a half in the semi-finals," said the right-back. "The only thing in our heads now is the weekend's Liga match against Madrid. They'll be favourites as they're at home, but we're a team that stands up in the face of adversity."
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