Lionel Messi turned in a five-star performance as Barcelona destroyed Bayer Leverkusen to book their place in the Champions League quarter-finals.
Messi became the first player in Champions League history to score five goals in a single game as he lead his side to a 7-1(10-2 on aggregate) second leg victory at the Nou Camp. Highly-rated winger Cristian Tello also chipped in with two goals to cement Barcelona's place as favourites to reach a third Champions League final in four years.
Pep Guardiola chose to field a strong starting eleven, including Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Messi and Pedro despite taking a 3-1 aggregate lead into the fixture. Having beaten Bayern Munich 2-0 at the weekend, Guardiola was perhaps wary of the German side's recent good form, although he needn't have worried.
Barcelona battered Leverkusen from the outset, with Bayer keeper Bernard Leno forced into a string of fine saves before a Messi lob eventually put the Catalonians in front. The Argentinian then doubled Barca's lead in the 42nd minute before the flood gates opened in the second half.
Youth team midfielder Tello has been linked with a move away from the Nou Camp in recent weeks, with Arsenal and Liverpool supposedly interested in securing his services, and the 20-year-old Spanish under-21 international did himself no harm with a neatly taken brace.
However, the night belonged to Messi as another trademark chip completed his hat-trick just after half time before he added two more to take his tally to a record-breaking five. Leverkusen finally got on the scoresheet in the 90th minute, substitute Karim Bellarabi curling sweetly past Victor Valdes.
Players, fans, managers and pundits all scrambled to heap praise on the 24-year-old Argentinean, who has now scored 53 goals in 49 games for club and country. After the game, Barca boss Pep Guardiola hailed Messi as "the best ever" and Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney agreed, saying "Messi, for me, is the best ever."
Guardiola said: "He's the best, there is no other like him. The throne belongs to him and only he will decide when he wants to relinquish it."
Messi's teammate Cesc Fabregas remained in no doubt that the Argentinian was one of a kind. The former Arsenal captain said: "From him you expect anything. He is the best player in football's history and we've never seen anyone like him."
Bayer Leverkusen manager Robin Dutt paid tribute to Messi as he watched his team taken part from the sideline. He said: "His class is just extraordinary, there's no discussion. Without Messi, Barca are the best team and with him, they are in another galaxy."
Messi has moved to within seven goals of the all-time Barcelona goalscoring record, but played down his remarkable achievements after the game. He said: "The important thing is what the team did and that we qualified for the next round. It's nice to score five but winning was the priority."
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