Messi brace gives Barca crucial lead

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Lionel Messi struck twice late on as Barcelona took a huge step towards the Champions League final with a 2-0 semi-final, first leg, win over 10-man Real Madrid at the Bernabeu last night.

Messi, taking his tally to 52 in all competitions this season, netted in the 76th and 87th minutes - the second a typically brilliant solo effort - to settle an ill-tempered clash which saw Madrid defender Pepe sent off in the 61st minute.

That incident also saw Madrid coach Jose Mourinho - who yesterday sparked a war of words with counterpart Pep Guardiola - sent to the stands, while Barca reserve goalkeeper Jose Pinto was also shown a red card following an incident at half-time.

However, the end result means Barca, European champions in 2006 and 2009, are now firm favourites to progress to next month’s final at Wembley.

The first half was a cagey affair with Madrid content to let Barca have possession well away from danger, and the visitors unwilling to commit too many men forward.

That led to Cristiano Ronaldo showing his frustration at one point as well as the home fans, and meant goalscoring chances at either end were few and far between.

Madrid were reduced to 10 men when Pepe was shown a straight red card following a challenge on Dani Alves that left the Brazilian writhing in agony.

Barca sensed a great opportunity to take control of the tie and took the lead when substitute Ibrahim Afellay did well to create space down the right, and his low cross was turned in by Messi running in at the front post.

Messi was not finished, and struck a brilliant second with three minutes remaining to leave Barca with one foot in the final.