BARCELONA - The brilliance of Lionel
Messi crushed Arsenal's Champions League dreams for the second
season in a row when the World Player of the Year netted twice
to propel Barcelona into the quarter-finals on Tuesday.
A tense last-16 second leg at the Nou Camp, which the La
Liga club completely dominated, was marred for Arsenal by the
controversial dismissal of striker Robin van Persie 11 minutes
into the second half.
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A Sergio Busquets own goal to level the scores at 1-1 would
have put the visitors through but a fine strike from Xavi and
Messi's penalty gave the 2009 winners a 3-1 victory and a 4-3
aggregate success that sent them into the last eight for a
fourth successive season.
Arsenal were furious with the referee over the sending-off
but they failed to muster a single shot on goal in the entire
game while Barca managed 19. The La Liga leaders had almost 70
percent of the possession at a packed and boisterous Nou Camp
stadium and completed 738 passes to Arsenal's 199.
"We played a fantastic match against 11 and against 10,"
Barca coach Pep Guardiola told reporters. "We did not allow them
to make more than three consecutive passes."
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Arsenal were chasing the ball from the kick-off and were
rocked when they were forced to replace goalkeeper Wojciech
Szczesny with Manuel Almunia in the 19th minute after the Pole
dislocated a finger when dealing with a Daniel Alves free-kick.
As Barca pressed for a goal, Adriano Correia raced in from
the left wing in the 36th minute and struck a fierce angled shot
against the post. Messi twisted and turned into space in the
penalty area moments later but shot straight at Almunia.
The Argentina forward, who netted all four goals in a 4-1
win over Arsenal at the Nou Camp in last season's
quarter-finals, put Barca ahead when he dashed on to Andres
Iniesta's dinked pass, lifted the ball over the keeper with an
audacious flick and volleyed into the empty net.
After Busquets's error from a Samir Nasri corner, Xavi
rifled home from close range in the 69th minute and Messi
claimed his second in the 71st following Laurent Koscielny's
foul on Pedro.
Substitute Nicklas Bendtner had a chance to score in the
dying minutes but he was denied by a brilliant covering tackle
from midfielder Javier Masherano before Barca ran down the clock
to complete a deserved victory.
"This was footballing justice. We were very superior both
here and there (in the first leg)," Xavi told reporters.
"We had an infinite number of chances to kill the game off
but it was Leo who again made the difference."
Messi's goals were his seventh and eighth in the competition
this season, putting him one ahead of Chelsea's Nicolas Anelka,
Inter Milan's Samuel Eto'o and Bayern Munich's Mario Gomez at
the top of the scoring charts.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was furious about the Van
Persie sending-off, which he felt changed the game at a time his
side were coming back into contention.
"At the moment he made his decision it was a very promising
game, very interesting," the Frenchman told reporters.
"If you have played football at a certain level you cannot
understand this decision. It's impossible.
"I felt we would have come back into the game. Overall I am
convinced we would have won this game."
Barca, who also beat Arsenal in the 2006 final, will go into
the March 18 draw for the last eight when they could be pitted
against Real Madrid if their arch-rivals get past Olympique Lyon
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