UCL: Did Lionel Messi Show Zlatan Ibrahimovic Up at the Camp Nou?

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UCL: Did Lionel Messi Show Zlatan Ibrahimovic Up at the Camp Nou?
Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic nearly did it.

The charismatic Swede—who spent a difficult 2009-10 season at Barcelona—nearly silenced the Camp Nou. He was on the brink of enjoying a famous Champions League quarterfinal victory and halting the progress of a Barca generation that deemed him too ridiculous to endure.

This generation is defined by one man. Much like Ibrahimovic's abrupt tenure in Spain, Lionel Messi snatched the plaudits away from an individual who was so close, yet so far away from sustained success on Catalonian soil.

Paris Saint-Germain played a strategic match against Barcelona. Carlo Ancelotti's decision to sacrifice David Beckham for Marco Verratti suggested the French club arrived in combative mood. While the young Italian bounced around the pitch with boundless energy, the positioning of Ibrahimovic was undoubtedly Ancelotti's most thoughtful move of the night.

The journeyman forward once again took up the centre forward's role in a 4-2-2-2 formation that sprang to 4-2-4 on the counter. Ibrahimovic started deep in order to lure Gerard Pique and fifth-choice centre-back Adriano out of position. In doing this, he forced the Barcelona defence to narrow itself, allowing Ezequiel Lavezzi and Lucas Moura space to bomb into from the flanks.

With 24 minutes played, Ibrahimovic's first notable involvement nearly opened Barcelona up. His delicate through ball provided Lavezzi with a slight chance at poking beyond the onrushing Victor Valdes, who suffocated the danger with a quick sprint from his line.

Three minutes later, Ibrahimovic once again delivered a fine pass from a deep position. Christophe Jallet peddled down the right wing only to find himself offside at the vital moment. In the same spell of play, Ibrahimovic burst into the box and stood a cross up for Lucas Moura at the back post. Barcelona's defensive line held strong.

David Ramos/Getty Images

Although minimal, Ibrahimovic's touches offered a sense of control to a hyperactive PSG side. He calmed attacking moves with confidence and brought others into play. On 33 minutes, Barcelona deemed it necessary to have both Cesc Fabregas  and Dani Alves marking him from a corner.

Such occurrences summed up large portions of PSG's performance. Five minutes before halftime, a slight hesitation in Ibrahimovic's run saw him trot offside from an intricate Javier Pastore pass. Three minutes from the interval, Zlatan plowed a free-kick into a wall that saw Xavi take a direct hit for Tito Vilanova's cause.

Five minutes after the break, Ibrahimovic's influence finally produced the breakthrough. An injured Lionel Messi watched from the bench as his former teammate slotted a fine ball into the path of Pastore, who easily fired a left-footed shot beyond Valdes' reach.

Then everything changed.

Messi entered the field 12 minutes later. Suddenly, a stuttering Barcelona side galvanised itself towards victory. Vilanova's men settled into their passing routine and began to halt PSG's threat before it gathered momentum. Ibrahimovic's starring role disappeared as another key act changed the game to his team's advantage.

David Ramos/Getty Images

While Messi failed to produce a shot, his dribbling skills instantly pushed the opposition's defence towards their own goal. With 19 minutes remaining, he tiptoed into the PSG area and set in motion a series of events that would end in Pedro's powerful equaliser. Messi celebrated, Ibrahimovic winced.

Such is the tale of these two players. Barcelona failed to beat PSG in either leg, but still advanced to the Champions League semifinal on away goals. Ibrahimovic—who put in a Man of the Match performance on the night—saw his name scribbled out of tomorrow's headlines and replaced with five letters that continue to haunt his career.

Ibrahimovic's final chance presented itself in the 92nd minute. The desperate forward looped a difficult header into the gloves of Valdes before the Spaniard launched the ball away in celebration. With that, Ibrahimovic's opportunity to exact revenge on his former club evaporated alongside PSG's quest for Champions League glory.

Once again, the former Barcelona man played the role of bridesmaid at his most difficult altar. No matter where the bouquet lands, you can bet Messi will catch it.

 

Did Lionel Messi show Zlatan Ibrahimovic up at the Camp Nou? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below and be sure to follow me on Twitter:

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