When Barcelona needed him most, Lionel Messi delivered – twice!
The Argentine forwarded scored two clutch goals in the Champions League semifinal versus hated rivals Real Madrid. The goals, both in the last 15 minutes of the match, was all Barcelona would need against its Spanish nemesis, in the 2-0 victory.
Messi sent substitute Ibrahim Afellay's cross through the legs of goalkeeper Iker Casillas to open the scoring in the 76th minute. With three minutes to play, he brilliantly moved past three defenders before slipping the ball past Casillas for his 52nd goal of the season, and 11th in the Champions League.
"A team that has nine European Cups never gives up on a series, I'm convinced of that," Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said. "We played a very good game. We controlled their counterattacks, their aerial game, which is very dangerous."
The match turned on the ejection of Madrid's Pepe in the 61st minute. That enraged Madrid coach José Mourinho, who was sent to the stands for protesting the decision, leaving Madrid playing with 10 against Barcelona for the fourth straight game.
Pepe was sent off after colliding with Daniel Alves as he lunged for a ball and Mourinho was sent to the stands for sarcastically clapping and showing a thumbs up to the fourth official.
Mourinho has seen his team finish with 10 players in his last five matches against Barcelona, counting Inter Milan's 1-0 defeat at Barcelona in the semifinals last year. Inter still advanced, then won the championship against Bayern Munich.
"If I say to (the referee) and to UEFA what I think and feel, my career ends today," Mourinho said. "One day I hope to get an answer to the question: Why?"
Mourinho took a seat in the first row behind the dugout and began scribbling instructions that were passed to assistant coach Aitor Karanka.
But there was no stopping Messi, whose second goal was a wonderful example of his trademark: a darting run and classic finish.
It was Barcelona's first win in three games between the bitter rivals in 12 days after a 1-1 league draw and a 1-0 extra-time Copa del Rey final defeat.
Madrid's defense in Tuesday's return leg will be short-handed with Pepe and Sergio Ramos both suspended. Ramos got a yellow card for a foul on Messi in the 53rd.
Mourinho described the second leg in Barcelona as "mission impossible" as he continued to bemoan his side's treatment by the referee.
"We'll go there with pride, without Pepe, who did nothing, without Ramos, who did nothing, and the coach who can't be on the bench," he said. "If we score a goal, they'll kill us again. It's a result that is impossible.
"Why in a game that was equal did he do what he did? But he won't answer, he'll go home because he doesn't have to answer to anyone."
Messi's 179th goal tied him with Josep Samitier as the third-leading scorer for Barcelona, behind only César Rodríguez (235) and Laszlo Kubala (196).
"At 23 ... that's incredible," Guardiola said.
Messi was not available for comment.
Both coaches had stoked tensions on the eve of the match, with Guardiola launching an expletive-filled attack on Mourinho, and the bad will spilled over into the match.
Tensions first erupted in the 40th minute when Madrid defender Alvaro Arbeloa was carded after a tussle with Pedro Rodríguez, while Danny Alves was shown a yellow card for a push on Angel Di Maria.
Substitute Barcelona keeper José Manuel Pinto was the first to be sent off for a red card at halftime as the two teams skirmished while leaving the field. That left Barcelona without a reserve goalkeeper as the frustration of not capitalizing on 70 percent of the possession in the first 45 minutes seemed to boil over.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.