Madrid: Barcelona forward Lionel Messi hailed his side’s return to form after they produced a remarkable comeback to beat AC Milan and progress to the Champions League quarter-finals for the sixth consecutive season.
Trailing 2-0 from the first-leg, Messi had restored parity on aggregate with two sumptuous strikes before half-time and further goals from David Villa and Jordi Alba after the break rounded off a wonderful evening for the Catalans.
And the Argentine believes his first goal, after just five minutes, was the key moment.
“From the fifth minute when we got that important first goal, we just went after Milan in every way,” he told Uefa.com
“We wanted that opening goal as soon as possible to cut the deficit and to make the fans feel it was going to happen. It was lightning quick movement of the ball to get it to me and, happily, I put it away. That’s why we celebrated with such joy.”
Barca’s comeback was even more remarkable given their poor form of late.
Defeat in the first-leg at the San Siro had been followed by two defeats in five days to arch rivals Real Madrid, but Messi said the players always trusted that they could find their top form when they needed it most.
“This is the kind of performance we’ve been producing for years. Perhaps in the last few matches we’ve lost a little of our form. We knew, however, that to go through all we really needed was to get back to being ourselves.
“We needed a night like that, not only to get through but to erase the memory of that result in Milan.
“Everything came off perfectly. I think our fans knew just how we were going to respond and we, the players, knew the crucial thing was to re-establish our way of playing.
“This is the Barca that we and our fans want to see every game.”
The evening was even more special for Villa after enduring a difficult time since breaking his tibia at the Club World Cup 15 months ago.
Villa returned to playing at the start of the season, but has failed to hold down a regular starting place and was even linked with a move away from the club in January.
“These are beautiful, magical moments,” he also told Uefa.com.
“It’s just what all of us around the club needed after some difficult weeks. This is the result we required. We’re still in this competition which matters so much to us and we’ve defeated an important rival.”
Indeed Barca’s comeback was so remarkable that they went from being underdogs in the tie back to favourites for the whole competition in 90 minutes.
The final will once again be played at Wembley in May but despite having won the competition there two years ago, Villa is cautious about targeting a return to the English capital.
“Wembley? Well, that would be great but it’s genuinely time to keep our feet planted firmly on the ground.
“It’s a complicated task to win this tournament, days like this happen only once in every few years and now it just feels great to wait to see who we get in Friday’s draw.”