Euphoria swept through the Nou Camp after Barcelona reached the last 16 of the Champions' League with a scintillating 5-0 win over Panathinaikos. The players did not try to disguise their pleasure after their irresistible display of attacking football on Wednesday night.
"We enjoyed ourselves and so did the fans," said the midfielder Xavi. "We were absolutely terrific in the first half hour. The team is playing well and I think we have now hit the same sort of form as last season."
Panathinaikos were simply torn apart by the Catalans, who raced into a 4-0 lead in a whirlwind first half. Mark van Bommel opened the scoring after just 40 seconds and the Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o helped himself to a splendid hat-trick.
The Argentinian teenage prodigy Lionel Messi weighed in with his first goal in the Champions' League when he stabbed home after outwitting the Panathinaikos defence.
The victory left Barcelona top of Group C with 10 points from four matches while Panathinaikos, Udinese and Werder Bremen are locked on four apiece. Udinese and Bremen could finish level with Barça if the Spanish champions lose their final two games, but their superior head-to-head ratio means they cannot finish lower than second place.
Eto'o insisted that it was important for Barça to keep their feet on the ground. "If we start relaxing now we will start dropping points and losing games. The most difficult part is still to come. We have to work hard to ensure we retain this sort of form."
His coach, Frank Rijkaard, added: "The early goal certainly settled the team and the players went on to enjoy themselves and so did the fans.
"Everything stems from having the right mentality and when you play well and get good results then you become more confident."
Van Bommel gave the side the perfect start when he turned and raced onto a sharp through pass from Andres Iniesta, saw the goalkeeper Mario Galinovic off his line, and lofted the ball into the net.
Messi almost added another three minutes later, but this time Galinovic was able to deny him as he got a hand to his low shot. The chances came thick and fast with Galinovic saving an Eto'o drive in the next attack and Messi having a shot cleared off the line soon after.
It came as little surprise when Eto'o took advantage of some slack defending to make it 2-0 when he directed a clever header past Galinovic after Iniesta picked him out with a neat cross.
Panathinaikos were unable to cope with the pinpoint passing of Iniesta and the pacy running of Messi, and the 18-year-old Argentinian cashed in on a series of errors from the Panathinaikos defence to poke home from close range.
Messi was heavily involved for Barca's fourth, speeding down the right before squaring the ball to Ronaldinho on the edge of the area. The Brazilian's subtle pass found Eto'o who drilled a shot past a demoralised Galinovic.
Barça eased up in the second half, but Eto'o still managed to complete his hat-trick, curling a stunning shot high over Galinovic after another fluent passing move.
"Things went very well for us," said the midfielder Iniesta. "We are certainly playing very well and with qualification now under our belt we can look forward to the rest of the matches with a different frame of mind."Reuse content