A clearly ailing Lionel Messi came off the bench to galvanise Barcelona and help salvage a 1-1 draw with Paris St Germain on Wednesday which put the favourites through to the Champions League semi-finals for a sixth straight season.
The Argentine World Player of the Year, top
scorer in Europe's elite club competition the past four seasons, had only been given the all-clear shortly before kickoff after damaging a hamstring in the quarter-final first leg 2-2 draw last week.
Coach Tito Vilanova decided to keep him in reserve but his hand was forced when Javier Pastore raced clear to give the Ligue 1 side a shock lead five minutes after halftime.
Messi replaced an ineffectual Cesc Fabregas in the 62nd minute and the buzz was palpable among almost 100,000 Barca fans packed into the giant arena on a balmy night in the Catalan capital.
Although struggling for fitness and lacking his customary zip, Messi's entrance immediately settled his team mates' nerves and restored their sense of urgency.
Job well done
With Barca laying siege to the PSG goal and roared on by the home faithful, he fed David Villa who clipped a short pass to Pedro for his Spain team mate to lash a shot past Salvatore Sirigu from the edge of the area.
The visitors mounted several desperate attacks in a tense finale but Barca held on reasonably comfortably to advance on away goals and keep their bid for a third European crown in five years firmly on track.
"Messi made a big effort to be with us," Pedro said. "He's the number one. We felt his presence when he came on the pitch, he lifted us and we got the result."