FOOTBALL / APOEL downs Lyon on penalties to make it to the quarterfinals
Barcelona's World Player-of-the-Year Lionel Messi and unheralded Cypriot side APOEL FC rewrote the Champions League football record books on Wednesday.
In Catalonia, Messi became the first player to score five goals in a Champions League match as title-holder Barcelona routed Bayer Leverkusen 7-1 to reach the quarterfinals with a crushing 10-2 aggregate win.
And over in Nicosia, APOEL became the first team from Cyprus to make it to the last eight with a 4-3 penalty shoot-out win over its more illustrious French rival Lyon in its last-16 second-leg match.
APOEL emerged 1-0 winner on the night after Brazilian midfielder Gustavo Manduca's ninth-minute goal had left the tie delicately poised at 1-1 on aggregate and the two sides remained inseparable after extra time.
Goalkeeper Dionisis Chiotis then emerged as the host's hero after stopping spot-kicks from Alexandre Lacazette and Michel Bastos to trigger jubilant scenes at the GSP stadium.
Messi, meanwhile, bettered his previous record of four against Arsenal two seasons ago and now has 12 goals from seven Champions League matches this season after a majestic attacking performance.
Messi's record five-goal haul prompted Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola to hail the Argentine master as the game's greatest talent.
“I am fortunate to have Messi in the team and all I can do is try and create the conditions so that he plays his best football,” said Guardiola.
“You won't see anyone else like him. People said that di Stefano, Maradona and Cruyff were the best when they were playing and now it is the same for Messi. He is on the throne and it is down to him how long he stays there.”
Guardiola was not alone in his admiration after the defending champion sailed into the quarterfinals on a 10-2 aggregate.
Robin Dutt, the coach of the vanquished German club, insisted that Messi made Barcelona look as if it came from “another galaxy” while England striker Wayne Rooney took to Twitter to anoint the superstar as “the best ever”.
Rooney, whose Manchester United side failed to make the last 16, insisted he had witnessed a genius at work. “Messi is a joke. For me, the best ever,” he tweeted.
Trailing 3-1 from the first leg it was always going to be a tough task for Leverkusen with Barcelona unbeaten in 13 European home games and it never appeared likely to end that run.
Messi struck twice before the break and then hit a further three after the re-start while youngster Christian Tello also grabbed a brace. In the final minute Karim Bellarabi scored for a shell-shocked German side.
Next week sees the quarterfinal line-up completed with last-16 second-leg matches featuring Inter Milan vs Marseille, Bayern Munich vs Basel, Chelsea vs Napoli and Real Madrid vs CSKA Moscow.
Barcelona 7 (Messi 25, 42, 49, 58, 84, Tello 55, 62) bt Bayer Leverkusen 1 (Bellarabi 90); (Barcelona wins 10-2 on aggregate).
At Nicosia: APOEL FC 1 (Manduca 9) bt Lyon 0; (1-1 on aggregate; after extra-time APOEL wins 4-3 on penalties). — Agencies