Madrid: No team has ever advanced after losing the first leg of a European Cup tie by four goals. To Lionel Messi, that doesn't mean it can't be done. After he and Barcelona were mauled 4-0 at Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-finals on Tuesday, Messi said they must not give up hope for the return leg at the Camp Nou next week.
That, he said, will be "a very tough match" given the seemingly insurmountable four-goal difference, but "you have to go for it and try to achieve it. They are very good, but we will try it." Nobody in a Barcelona jersey was less impressive than Messi, the spearhead who didn't fire a shot at goal and was practically invisible at Bayern.
He was in doubt to play until hours before the match, when he was medically cleared following a lingering right hamstring injury since April 2. "I hadn't played for a while, but I felt good," Messi said "I couldn't do much, facing that kind of result. It was a shame." Football commentator Josep Maria Minguella said on Spanish radio Cadena Cope that Messi's father, Jorge, told him on Tuesday that his son was not fit. "Messi's father told me at lunch that he was not ready to play," Minguella said.
Regardless, Barcelona and their fans are counting on Messi to save them again, as he did in the two previous rounds. In the last 16, Barcelona overcame a two-goal deficit against AC Milan when Messi scored a pair in a 4-0 win at home, and in the quarter-finals against Paris Saint-Germain, he went on as a second-half substitute and set up the 1-1 equalizer that allowed Barcelona to advance on away goals.
Although assistant coach Jordi Roura complained that two Bayern goals benefited from refereeing decisions, without mentioning two occasions when Barcelona players appeared to handle the ball in the area and weren't penalized, he conceded, "Bayern were superior and I congratulate them."
Barcelona remained true to style and held 63 per cent of the possession, but a muscular Bayern was able to pressure the midfield and dominate with set-pieces. The German side took 11 corners to Barcelona's four and had nine attempts on target to Barcelona's two. Coach Tito Vilanova was seen pacing the edge of the field, looking ashen, gaunt and at a loss as to what tactics to employ. He did not deploy Cesc Fabregas, who has considerable experience in organizing defenses against corners.
Dani Alves said Bayern made things very difficult by applying pressure quickly on the midfield. "They pressurized with up to four players, so it became very difficult to come out with the ball under control," Alves said.
The defeat was Barcelona's worst in European competition in 19 years, since Fabio Capello's AC Milan trounced Johan Cruyff's "Dream Team" 4-0 in the Champions League final at the Athens Olympic Stadium in 1994. "When you come up against a rival that competes better than you and has things you don't, you have to take your hat off," Alves said.