FC Barcelona produced a rousing comeback to overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit against AC Milan and reach the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals for the sixth season in succession.
No side had ever recovered from a two-goal first-leg loss without the benefit of an away goal yet Barcelona made light of such unfavourable statistics, Lionel Messi's sublime first-half double wiping out Milan's lead and taking the Argentinian clear in second place in the all-time UEFA Champions League scoring charts behind Raúl González. Of more immediate relevance to the Azulgrana was David Villa's goal early in the second period although, for all their dominance, the home team were not safe until Jordi Alba raced through to add a clinching fourth in stoppage time.
After a tumultuous build-up, Barça's most fervent prayer was for an early goal. When it duly arrived the explosion of noise was all-engulfing. In the fifth minute Sergio Busquets slid a firm pass to Messi on the edge of the area and the No10 played a sharp one-two with Xavi Hernández. Seizing the return but surrounded by white shirts, using next to no backlift, Messi's left boot made Christian Abbiati's net billow.
Daniel Alves had pointed out that few can live with this Barcelona side when they play at their own tempo. So it proved as Milan, despite dogged efforts, fought not be swamped. Messi nodded a deep Alves cross toward Andrés Iniesta and his thunderous strike looked destined for the same top corner as Messi's breakthrough effort. Abbiati equalled the Spaniard's excellence, pushing the ball up and against the crossbar; it might still have been 2-0 as Messi was first to the rebound only to head wide.
The Rossoneri continued to stick to their task commendably. Stephan El Shaarawy fashioned a couple of openings which Víctor Valdés dealt with but then came a gaping chance to turn the contest back in their favour. Riccardo Montolivo's long ball was midjudged by Javier Mascherano, whose header found only M'Baye Niang. Clean through, the 18-year-old beat Valdés with a low shot but the right-hand upright came to Barcelona's rescue.
Almost immediately, the tie was all square. Iniesta robbed Massimo Ambrosini in midfield, Milan's tight marking scheme was broken and an instant pass gave Messi the opportunity to shoot through Philippe Mexès's legs and beyond Abbiati.
Milan were undone again ten minutes into the second period. Mascherano superbly anticipated a long ball and volleyed to Iniesta. The No8's pass inside Kévin Constant picked out Villa, who used his left foot to curl a measured shot past Abbiati.
Although the visitors strove for a way back into the game, they were unable to breach Barcelona's rearguard and victory was assured two minutes into added time. Alba's tremendous tackle denied Robinho what would have been the tie-winning away goal and the left-back then scampered clear onto Alexis Sánchez's perfect pass to crown a memorable night.