LIONEL MESSI was a frustrated observer as Barcelona were humbled in a 7-0 aggregate loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-finals, but coach Tito Vilanova later confirmed the star forward only missed last night's second leg as a precaution.
Newly crowned Bundesliga champions Bayern prevailed 3-0 at the Nou Camp last night to set up an all-German Wembley final against Borussia Dortmund on May 25.
Any slim hopes Barca had of turning around the 4-0 first-leg scoreline were hurt before kick-off when Messi was named on the bench, and he finished the match as an unused substitute.
But Vilanova said the Argentina international was not injured. "Messi felt good against Athletic Bilbao (on Saturday), but in the final minutes of the game at San Mames he noticed a strange feeling," Vilanova said of the four-time reigning world player of the year.
"He's not injured, but he felt he could pick up an injury.
"Yesterday he trained, and also today... but he did not feel well. He's an explosive player and he could break. So, maybe he could not help the team."
Vilanova, speaking at his post-match press conference, acknowledged the tie had been lost in Bavaria last Tuesday week.
"To lose, that can pass, but to lose 3-0 at home and 7-0 overall... It is clear this is not the tie we wanted," he said. "If we had arrived at 100 per cent, it could have been different. I believe the first leg weighed heavily on us. I do not want to recall how they got those goals."
Bayern Munich coach Jupp Heynckes acknowledged that the absence of Argentina forward Messi had had an effect but felt it should not detract from his side's achievement.
He said: "Messi's (absence) surprised us and, even though it's clear that we've had an excellent game, you need to accept that Barcelona are one thing with Messi another without Messi. If we look at the whole tie, we've won 7-0. That couldn't be more clear and now we have to enjoy it."
Barca president Sandro Rosell, congratulated Bayern and accepted the Bundesliga champions had been "clearly the superior side", and backed Vilanova's decision not to risk Messi with the tie out of reach. "If the best player in the world isn't on the pitch, it's noticeable," he said. "I am very proud of all of the players, managers, members and fans. They proved that they know how to win and how to lose. If they (Barca management) decided that he shouldn't play, it was a purely technical decision. Nothing else to say."
Heynckes, meanwhile, played down speculation linking him with a return to Real Madrid following his side's stunning success at the Nou Camp. The 67-year-old, who will step down from his post in the summer to be replaced by former Barca boss Pep Guardiola, occupied the Bernabeu hotseat in 1997-98 and has been touted as a possible successor to Jose Mourinho should the Real boss depart in the summer.
But Heynckes insisted after this evening's game that he has not had his head turned by the prospect of a second spell in the Spanish capital.
"I turn 68 on May 9," he said. "I've spent 50 years in football as a player and coach and some day you have to think that's enough.
"Madrid have not been in contact with me."