Lionel Messi called Joe Hart's display "absolutely fantastic" after the Manchester City FC goalkeeper produced a string of saves in what was "a pretty spectacular game".
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When Lionel Messi does a somersault in front of the opposition goal in the dying minutes of a UEFA Champions League knockout match, it usually means he has scored and is celebrating joyously.
When the Argentinian did just that against Manchester City FC at the Camp Nou on Wednesday, as FC Barcelona qualified for the quarter-finals with a 1-0 round of 16 second-leg win, it was in sheer bewildered frustration. Admiration, too: "Joe Hart is a phenomenon," he told UEFA.com. The City goalkeeper, in that instance, had done remarkably to prevent Messi putting the ball into what had seemed a gaping net for the umpteenth time that evening.
Indeed the grace and style of the 90 minutes on the pitch, one of the most complete and thrilling performances Barcelona have given in many months, continued in the mixed zone afterwards. Hart began it, admitting to huge disappointment that his team were out after a stirring night, but then volunteering that it had been "an honour" to pit himself against Barcelona's remarkable No10 and that despite the demanding nature of the occasion he had "really enjoyed playing against Messi".
When the Barça forward had these words of praise relayed to him he was all grins. The respect, clearly, was mutual. "Joe Hart had an absolutely fantastic game," Messi replied. "I already knew he was a top keeper but it was impressive in this performance how he just stopped everything that came his way, with either his hands or his body – he is a phenomenon. The fortunate thing, given all that, was we managed to get through the tie, which was all we wanted, so that we could be in Friday's quarter-final draw.
"These nights are just so tremendous to play in and wonderful for the public to watch, especially when the game is played like this," Messi added. "The opposition was full of great players and both teams just try to play really good, open football. Today both City and Barcelona wanted to be on the ball, to do things with it and it ended up as a pretty spectacular game."
One of the key transformations for Barcelona this season has been Messi's willingness to play from the right wing, rather than his central role under the previous three coaches, and his emergence as an assist provider of extraordinary vision and technique. Such was the quality of the single, clinching goal that Josep Guardiola, in the stands with his parents and great friend, Olympic gold medallist Manel Estiarte, pushed his cardigan in front of his face to hide his astonished expression.
Messi, understandably, was pleased with his part in creating Ivan Rakitić's 31st-minute strike. "I was happy that the combination between me and Rakitić ended with that goal. The team made so, so many chances but we weren't able to put them away – most of which was down to City's great keeper. But we got through after a great game.
"As for the draw I always say the same thing but that's only because it's the truth. When you get down to the last eight of the Champions League, no matter which team you draw it's going to be hard and they can make your life difficult. What will be, will be."