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
  • @simonrice

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.