Relief and pride were the main emotions circling the Camp Nou after FC Barcelona eliminated a stubborn AC Milan side to reach the UEFA Champions League semi-finals.
Getting to the last four of the competition for the fifth consecutive season was reason enough for celebration. However, the fact that, inspired by another fine display from Lionel Messi, they played close to their maximum to beat the Italian champions meant there was a relieved intake of breath by the time UEFA.com spoke to Josep Guardiola's players.
Forward Messi explained: "We knew, quite clearly, this was going to be a tough game but what was vital was that we also knew how to take advantage of our strengths and because of that we won and are through.
Milan have great footballers and they are demonstrating their quality in the Italian championship and this Champions League. Like the first leg this was a hard contest but we did well and won through."
Barcelona ran out 3-1 victors – courtesy of two Messi penalties and a deft third from Andrés Iniesta – after a performance of intensity and confidence which had the Camp Nou roaring its appreciation. Antonio Nocerino's clever equaliser had tested the nerve of the hosts, but with man of the match Messi again on sparkling form Barça held out – even after Gerard Piqué limped off in the second half.
Daniel Alves, whose strong showing drew particular praise from his coach, said: "It was a really intense and fascinating game to play in. We gave everything to achieve our objectives and we produced some great stuff and many chances. No way would it have been a surprise if we had won by another couple of goals."
The Brazilian international full-back added: "
When you think about being in the semi-finals after a game like that, there is a sense of relief at having eliminated a difficult, historic rival like Milan."
Messi notched his 50th goal in the UEFA Champions League, then went on to add his 14th of this European campaign with his second penalty – and third in two matches. He said that converting two spot kicks in a single game has its difficulties.
"I tried to hold off on the second penalty until the keeper committed himself but that was tricky because he [Christian Abbiati] is huge," he said. "He waited for me and I knew he could get to either side of the goal by diving full length – as he did when he got a touch to the first one. But all I care about the two goals was that they went in and I helped the team achieve our target."
The final word went to a thrilled Thiago Alcántara, the 20-year-old midfielder having been introduced as a second-half substitute. "It wasn't just a pleasure for the fans to watch this game, it was great to play in too," he said. "It was the meeting of two historic, almost mythical clubs so of course it was a lovely night to be part of. The feeling of eliminating them and reaching the semi-final is one of absolute delight and pride. It's the best."
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