Lionel Messi delivered another reminder of his enduring star quality as Barcelona quashed Manchester United’s hopes of another improbable Champions League comeback at the Nou Camp.
United had overcome a two-goal deficit at Paris St Germain last month but Messi’s first-half brace and a wonder strike from Philippe Coutinho ushered Barcelona towards a 3-0 victory, 4-0 on aggregate, at the ground of one of the Premier League side’s greatest triumphs.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was insistent that the 1999 Champions League final win over Bayern Munich would have no bearing on this quarter-final second leg and his remarks proved accurate.
While his side made an energetic start, with Marcus Rashford denied by the goal frame within seconds of kick-off, Barcelona became more proactive and Messi took top billing.
The 31-year-old was largely subdued in Barcelona’s 1-0 victory at Old Trafford last Wednesday and had his nose bloodied after being caught unintentionally by Chris Smalling’s flailing arm.
But he doubled Barcelona’s advantage with a left-footed strike from the edge of the area that has so often become his hallmark, although his second strike arrived following a major blunder from United goalkeeper David De Gea.
He is a different class, him and Cristiano (Ronaldo) are the best players of the past decade and tonight he (Messi) showed his quality. That’s the quality we have to aspire to.Manchester United boss, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
There was nothing the United goalkeeper could do to stop Coutinho just after the hour mark, though, as Barcelona – after three last-eight exits in as many seasons – booked a semi-final showdown against either Liverpool or Porto.
For United, who were looking to reach the last four in this competition for the first time since 2011, their attentions now turn to the Premier League and a battle to finish in the top four.
Solskjaer felt Barca were “a couple of levels” above his side over the two legs of the tie.
“If you want the result you need a performance and we started well and created some decent chances but then he (Messi) hits it in the bottom corner and I’ve got to say, it’s top quality. He was the difference,” said Solskjaer.
“He is a different class, him and Cristiano (Ronaldo) are the best players of the past decade and tonight he (Messi) showed his quality. That’s the quality we have to aspire to.
“If we want to get back to Manchester United’s true tradition and level we have got to get to challenge the Barcelonas, and I’ve got to say they were a couple of levels above us in those 90 minutes and at Old Trafford.”
Ajax stunned Juventus to reach the semi-finals with a 2-1 comeback win in Turin.
Cristiano Ronaldo gave Juventus the lead after 28 minutes with a record 126th goal in the competition, his ninth in seven meetings against Ajax.
But goals from Donny Van De Beek and Matthijs De Ligt gave Ajax a 3-2 aggregate success.
Ajax will meet Manchester City or Tottenham in their first Champions League semi-final for 22 years and many will consider them underdogs again.
But after eliminating Real Madrid, champions for the previous three seasons, and now Juventus, Erik Ten Hag’s side should not be underestimated.