Messi leads Barcelona romp

Barcelona 4 Stuttgart 0 (Barcelona win 5-1 on aggregate)
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The Independent Football

Leo Messi scored his 30th and 31st goals of the season as a rampant Barcelona marched into the last eight of the Champions League. The Argentine has now scored eight in his last four games and his double made sure the holders avoided the embarrassment that befell their rivals Real Madrid last week against Lyons. Now they can sit back and enjoy Real director Emilio Butragueno make the quarter-final draw tomorrow.

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola had made much of the challenge ahead before kick-off reminding his players that Manchester United are the only team since 2005 to have won the tournament and then got past the last 16 the following season. "It is a marvelous challenge being among the best eight and imitating Manchester United if only Manchester have done it in the last few years it is for a reason. It is difficult and we have done it," he said.

Guardiola had insisted on the signing of Zlaten Ibrahimovic in the summer, for the biggest game of the season so far he left him on the bench in favour of Thierry Henry. The Swede has only ever scored once in a Champions League knockout tie with the goal that got Barça back into the first leg in the 1-1 draw in Stuttgart.

The decision left Messi playing as a withdrawn central striker flanked by Pedro and Henry and the Argentine was inspired. He broke the deadlock after taking a pass from Yaya Touré and heading straight to the edge of the Stuttgart penalty area from where he flashed a left-footed shot into Jens Lehmann's top right-hand corner.

On 21 minutes Barcelona were two up as Messi clipped a diagonally ball onto Touré's toe and the big Ivory Coast midfielder squared for Pedro to bundle over the line.

Messi was driving the home side with his energy and destroying the visitors with his skill and 14 minutes into the second half he put the result beyond doubt. Pedro crossed from the right, Alves flicked on for Messi and spinning away from Timo Gebhart he planted another unstoppable shot past Lehman. Bojan grabbed the fourth.

"We can now compare Messi with Maradona," said Christian Gross, the coach of Stuttgart.

Guardiola added of Messi: "Last year we won six titles and he played wide but we need him involved and sometimes he sees more of the ball when he plays more in the centre. But he is the best, wherever he plays."

Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdes; Alves, Puyol, Pique, Maxwell; Busquets, Touré, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Henry. Substitutes not used: Pinto, Marquez, Ibrahimovic, Bojan, Keita, Milito, Jeffren.

Stuttgart (4-4-2): Lehmann; Celozzi, Niedermeier, Delpierre, Molinaro; Trasch, Kuzmanovic, Khedira, Hleb; Cacau, Pogrebnyak. Substitutes not used: Stolz, Osorio, Boulahrouz, Marica, Gebhart, Rudy, Hilbert.

Referee: A Hamer (Luxembourg).