BARCELONA COACH PEP GUARDIOLA heaped praise on Lionel Messi after he netted five times in Wednesday’s 7-1 thrashing of Bayer Leverkusen.
Champions League holders Barca coasted into the quarter-finals of the competition with a 10-2 aggregate victory over the hapless Bundesliga side, who were ripped to shreds in the round-of-16 second leg at Camp Nou.
Not for the first time, it was Argentina international Messi who stole the show, becoming the first player to score five times in a single Champions League match since the European format was introduced in 1992-93.
“Tonight we witnessed one of (Lionel) Messi’s most special nights; watching it was like receiving a gift,” Guardiola said.
“He deserves to be honoured right now because it’s something really incredible that he is now just seven goals behind [Barcelona's all-time top scorer] Cesar — he’s only 24.”
“It’s not easy to score five goals in a single game and that’s coming from someone who scored 11 in his entire career.”
“If he wants to, he’ll score six one day. I have to also say that (Andres) Iniesta played magnificently too.”
Barca have not exited as early as the round-of-16 since going out on away goals following a 2-2 aggregate draw with Liverpool in 2007.
And with two of the last three European Cups going back to Catalonia, Barca are now on course to become the first club since AC Milan in 1990 to retain the trophy, a feat which no team has managed in the Champions League era.
“We’ve reached the quarter-finals for the last five years now and that says something about the great stability here,” Guardiola said.
This really is the most beautiful competition. The team we were facing tonight eliminated Valencia and only a few days ago beat Bayern Munich, that speaks volumes of our achievement.
We have to thank all of the players and the staff at the club.