How Lionel Messi 'just being on the pitch' can inspire Barcelona to Champions League glory
Spanish league leaders came from behind to draw 1-1 with PSG and advance to the Champions League semi-finals on away goals
He did not start. He did not score. He did not even have an attempt at goal. Yet the mere presence of Lionel Messi on the pitch against PSG has been credited for ensuring Barcelona progressed to the semi-finals of the Champions League.
Before the game there were serious doubts about Messi's participation. After coming off at half-time in the first leg with a hamstring problem, there was uncertainty whether he would even make the bench.
After he failed to participate in the pre-match warm up it was even suggested that his inclusion among Tito Vilanova's substitutes may have even been a ruse to put the fear into their French opponents.
Yet after Javier Pastore put the visitors ahead, it was fear that Barcelona could miss out on reaching the semi-finals for the first time since 2007 that gripped the Nou Camp. Cue the introduction of Messi.
Erring on the side of caution no longer made sense and Messi replaced Fabregas. It arrival on the pitch changed the entire landscape.
On 71 minutes Messi ran at the heart of the PSG defence and played in Villa with a superb pass. He then laid the ball back and Pedro swept it past Sirigu to level the match - a score line that would remain until the final whistle ensuring Barcelona's progress.
Carlo Ancelotti's side also had a substitute up his sleeve in David Beckham, but the former England captain made little impact after coming on. He was no match for Vilanova's intervention.
"Messi is the best player in the world, simple as that," said Beckham, who had been dreaming of a Wembley final with his latest team. "He came on when we were 1-0 up and they scored. A player like him, 100 per cent fit or not, will always make the difference."
While Messi had little time to make a direct impact, his mere presence made the difference according to David Villa.
"Messi is the best player in the world and he changed the game just by being on the pitch," he said. "We have to congratulate him for his show of commitment to the team and to football. It is thanks to him, and everyone else, that we have qualified."
Jordi Roura, Barcelona's assistant manager added: "It was a pact that we had with him that if things weren't going well, we would bring him on. He is so important and his presence on the field conditioned the game after we had conceded a goal and made an impact on the opponent.
"Once again he has shown his competitive spirit and desperation to always be there for the team and we have to take our hat off to him."
Pedro said: "He made a great effort. He is very important for the team and this week he has worked his upmost to get here. We need to thank him for his involvement. The team turned around completely with his introduction."
While there was little doubt that Messi was below full fitness, the four time Ballon d'Or winner showed that along with his almost unrivalled armoury of passing, shooting and dribbling, he can add a new weapon - aura.
"Messi certainly gave his side a confidence boost because, even at under 100 per cent, he is still a fantastic player," said PSG director Leonardo after the game.
Messi's team-mate Gerard Pique added: "It doesn't matter if he's a little bit injured - he can change everything. We are very proud and lucky to have him in our side. He's our reference as a striker - he can score, he can pass, he can do anything and everything."
The Spanish have a word for his importance to the team: Messidependencia – simply Messi-dependence. His impact last night proves why such a word exists. That Barca can depend on Messi even when he's not fit should strike fear into the three other sides remaining in the competition.
The draw for the semi-finals is made tomorrow.
Latest in Sport
Paul Scholes: Manchester United vs Liverpool - I don't understand why Brendan Rodgers was not more attacking against Basel
Jesus Christ plays for Chelsea - that's what one in five children thinks
Transfer Talk: Nemanja Vidic to return to Manchester United; Hazard to leave Chelsea; Sunderland want Radamel Falcao
Frank Warren column: Don't bet on Amir Khan landing pay day against Floyd Mayweather
Manchester United transfer news: Kevin Strootman move edges closer
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food