Lionel Messi once again showed off his credentials as the most exciting talent on the world stage with a superb hat-trick for Barcelona in a 3-1 win on Tuesday night.
The diminutive Argentine terrorised the Atletico Madrid defence all night before receiving a standing ovation from the Vicente Calderon Togel crowd when he was replaced 10 minutes before full-time.
The result leaves Barcelona well placed to reach the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey when the teams meet again at the Camp Nou next Wednesday.
The 21-year-old sensation set about his task early in the match with great combination play with Daniel Alves, another of the few Barca regulars to feature in a ‘weakened’ first eleven.
With 11 minutes on the clock Alves fed Messi with a well worked one-two which left the striker clean through on Gregory Coupet’s goal. A cool finish into the near post gave Barcelona an early lead.
The teams continued sparring for the remainder of the first half with Maniche going close for Atletico and Seydou Keita wasteful in front of goal for the visitors.
Messi had to wait until the second half for his next decisive moment of the match.
The Rojiblancos had been reverting to dirty tactics in an attempt to stop the Barca man throughout the game. No surprises then when Messi drew a foul in the penalty area five minutes into the second half.
Again great link-up play between Alves and Messi saw the Brazilian full-back slip a ball into the box for his team-mate. Before Messi had a chance to convert the centre he was pulled down by Dutchman Johnny Heitinga.
Referee Gonzalez had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and sending Heitinga off for an early bath. …