Barcelona continued their run of reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League every season since 2006-07
Barcelona set up a Champions League quarter-final meeting with Bayern Munich after overcoming Napoli at the Nou Camp.
With the sides tied 1-1 after the first leg in February, Dries Mertens set the tone for an eventful first half as he struck the post after 90 seconds – but it was Barcelona who made the breakthrough when Clement Lenglet headed in Ivan Rakitic’s corner after 10 minutes.
Lionel Messi doubled his side’s advantage in style as he wriggled his way past three defenders, before bending a shot between another two Napoli players and into the far side of David Ospina’s goal.
The Barcelona captain thought he had further added to his tally of 115 Champions League goals in 142 games just seven minutes later, but a lengthy video assistant referee review deemed he had handled the ball in controlling Frenkie de Jong’s pass.
Another VAR review then awarded Barcelona a penalty in first-half injury time after Kalidou Koulibaly felled Messi – and Luis Suarez stepped up to net his 25th Champions League goal.
It was Napoli who had the final say at the end of an incident-filled first half, however, as Rakitic conceded a penalty for a foul on Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne converted to make it 3-1 at the interval.
In a significantly quieter second period, Insigne’s header early in the half failed to test Marc-Andre ter Stegen as Napoli chased a lifeline, while Kostas Manolas was at full stretch to deny Suarez the chance to put Barcelona out of sight.
Napoli substitute Arkadiusz Milik was on the pitch for less than two minutes when he headed past Ter Stegen with time running out for the visitors, but the Poland striker’s goal was ruled out for offside.
German champions Bayern Munich await Barca in the last eight after beating Chelsea 4-1 on Saturday to complete a 7-1 aggregate victory.
Barcelona manager Quique Setien was adamant in the build-up to Saturday’s game that “at no point” had he considered his side’s second leg against Napoli could be his final match in charge.
There could, however, be little doubt that a Champions League exit at the last-16 stage, following a disappointing domestic campaign, would have seen his position fall under serious threat.
Ex-Real Betis boss Setien was hired as Ernesto Valverde’s replacement in January to reintroduce the free-flowing, possession-based brand synonymous with the club, but he failed to inspire his players to a third successive league title, or beyond the Copa del Rey quarter-finals.
Manager Gennaro Gattuso said his Napoli side were “going to have to climb Everest” to progress against Barcelona at the Nou Camp and his side appeared up for the challenge, as Mertens delivered an early wake-up call to the hosts.
It took Lenglet’s opener to settle Barcelona, for whom once again it was Messi that made the difference when it mattered.
Though there was an element of fortune to the run which preceded his fine finish – the Argentine stumbling between challenges – his commitment to the cause drew the error from Koulibaly which allowed Suarez to put the tie beyond Napoli.
The five-time European champions have not tasted success in Europe’s elite competition since 2015, but progress into the latter stages is a minimum requirement.
A potentially crucial victory for Setien extends Barca’s streak of having not failed to qualify for the Champions League quarter-finals since 2007, but as the competition moves to a one-game knockout format in Portugal, his side will be without the comfort of the Nou Camp where they are now unbeaten in their past 36 Champions League home games.
Undoubtedly, Barcelona – and Messi – will need to be at the top of their game to defeat an in-form Bayern.
BADEJO ADEMUYIWA has 23 years experience as a Finance Writer, specialising in Insurance and Investigative Reporting.