Antonio Conte heaped praise on Lionel Messi after his brace saw Barcelona knock Chelsea out of the Champions League 4-1 on aggregate and progress to the quarter-finals.
Going in to the second leg of their round of 16 tie with a crucial away goal after their 1-1 result at Stamford Bridge, Barcelona simply needed to avoid a goalscoring draw on Wednesday to advance but it was Messi who took things in his own hands.
After going goalless in his first eight appearances against the Blues before breaking his duck in the first leg, the Argentine international opened the scoring on the night in the third minute as he slotted the ball through Thibaut Courtois’ legs from a tight angle.
Messi then turned provider as his pass set up summer signing Ousmane Dembele to blast the ball in the back of the net in the 20th minute to all but seal the game.
The 30-year-old then became the quickest player to reach 100 Champions League goals (123 games) when he slotted the ball through Courtois’ legs once again in the 63rd minute as the tie eventually ended 3-0 on the night.
Chelsea boss Conte was pleased with the effort of his players but had nothing but admiration for Messi, who he embraced following the final whistle.
“A fantastic player [Messi] moved the final result, moved the qualification over the two legs,” Conte said after the game. “I have to praise the commitment of my players, and be proud because they gave everything. But Messi made the difference and, when you have the opportunity to make a great compliment to Messi, it’s right to praise a super, super, super top player. A player who is able to score 60 goals in every season. Not only for one season. We are talking about an extraordinary player, the best in the world.”
“He’s a player who can change the final result for any team he is playing in. But he started to play with Barcelona and, for sure, he will finish his career in Barcelona. Many teams can hope to have him in their team, but it won’t be possible. This is a great story for Barcelona and Messi. This type of player is born once every 50 years. We are talking about one single player with this capacity, with this ability, with these skills. He’s fantastic,” he said.
Despite the praise for Messi, the Italian could not bemoan the luck of his side as for the most part, they played well on the night and hit the woodwork four times over the course of the two legs.
“They scored three times but I think we didn’t deserve this type of result,” Conte added. “We were a bit unlucky because we created many chances to score.”
“I think there was a penalty on Marcos Alonso [after a challenge from Gerard Piqué] at the start of the second half and, if you make it 2-1, you can put a bit of pressure on Barcelona. At the end, I repeat: I must be pleased with the commitment of my players. I saw great work from my players.”
Barcelona will join the likes of Bayern Munich, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City, Roma, Sevilla and reigning champions Real Madrid in the last eight of the competition. The draw for the quarter-finals will take place on Friday.