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Guardiola: Messi the greatest

BARCELONA coach Pep Guardiola hailed the unique talents of Lionel Messi after the Argentina forward’s five goals against Bayer Leverkusen last night eased the holders into the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

The Catalan side destroyed Leverkusen 7-1 at the Nou Camp to secure a 10-2 aggregate victory, Messi stealing the show by becoming the first player to score five in a single Champions League game while substitute Cristian Tello added two in a performance of startling brilliance.

Guardiola labelled Messi “the best” after the match, and said he felt fortunate to be working with the 24-year-old.

“I’m lucky to coach and manage this player,” the Barca boss said.

“He is the best. There’s no one else. He is a unique player because of his innate talent and also for his competitiveness.

“We will not see another player like Messi.

“It’s not easy to score five goals, and one day he will score six.”

Asked to compare Messi to legends like Johan Cruyff, Alfredo Di Stefano, Diego Maradona and Pele, Guardiola said: “The throne is his. Only he will decide when to leave it.”

Guardiola added: “The circumstances don’t matter. He competes against himself. We only try to provide the conditions so that he can receive (the ball) as many times as possible where he feels comfortable (on the pitch).

“We are very fortunate to have a player like this.

“We can only enjoy him and this team.”

Karim Bellarabi managed a consolation in stoppage time for Leverkusen, but nothing took the shine off Barca’s superb display.

“What I’m taking away from this match is that we qualified for the next round and that the team took this game seriously,” Guardiola added.

These players have done it again. They have given us a prize; they’ve taken us to the quarter-finals.

“The most beautiful thing about qualifying is that we can continue playing in this special tournament.”

Also last night, goalkeeper Dionissis Chiotis was the hero as he saved twice in a penalty shoot-out to send APOEL Nicosia into the last eight at the expense of French side Lyon, after their tie finished 1-1 after extra-time in Cyprus.

Gustavo Manduca scored the only goal of the night in normal time to cancel out Alexandre Lacazette’s winner for Lyon in the first leg.

Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney tweeted after the game: “Messi is a joke (sic). For me he is the best ever.”