BARCELONA: Lionel Messi struck twice and mad e a further goal for Neymar as Barcelona wrecked the return home of old boss Pep Guardiola and his current club, Bayern Munich, in their Champions League semi-final first leg.
Guardiola, who won 14 titles in four years with the Catalan giants, saw the architect of so many of his greatest triumphs put him on the brink of a second successive semi-final exit after last year’s defeat by Real Madrid.
Ahead of the game Guardiola admitted Messi was “just too good” to be stopped and so it proved as the Argentinian ace, who was quiet for long periods, burst into life in the closing stages.
Guardiola dared a three-man defence of Jerome Boateng, Rafinha and Mehdi Benatia against Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez but the only surprise was that goals were so long in coming.
Ex-Liverpool striker Suarez wasted the best chance of the first half when beat Bayern’s offside trap only for keeper Manuel to defy him with an outstretched right leg.
Bayern tightening up after that and switched to four at the back while Robert Lewandowski – playing in a protective mask after a jaw fracture – was inches away from giving them the lead with their first meaningful raid.
Five minutes before the break Neuer was once again at his best to deny Dani Alves with a point-blank block at the far post and somehow keep it goalless after a breathless 45 minutes.
Guardiola’s side made a more assured start to the second half without crafting clear-cut chances, but Barca remained a constant threat on the break.
Messi, who buzzed around the periphery of the game for large parts of the first half, unleashed a powerful drive from just outside the box after a give-and-go exchange with Neymar during one such surge upfield, but Neuer gathered cleanly, making it look easy.
The German justified his ‘sweeper-keeper’ nickname around the hour-mark, when he raced well off his line to thwart Neymar from a ball over the top.
But after a night of heroics from Neuer, Messi finally broke his resistance by catching him out on his near post 13 minutes from time.
The Argentinian picked up the ball on the right, gave a trademark half-shimmy and then unleashed a rasping left-footed drive through a crowd of bodies. Neuer dived, but was unable to get anything on it.
Messi then left Boateng flat on the floor as he twisted and turned in the Bayern box before chipping home exquisitely for his 10th goal in 11 Champions League matches this season three minutes later.
The four-time Ballon d’Or winner slipped Neymar through one-on-one against Neuer at the death and the Brazilian remained cool to give Barca an even bigger advantage.