The good news is, another 82,137 got to see Lionel Messi. They might not have felt that way, as they trooped away from Wembley Stadium. They might have been cursing him for what he did to their team.
Yet time is a healer. And with time they will know what a privilege it was, to see the man on what may be his last visit to the capital. Who knows how much longer he has got, or where the draw will take him. This could be it for Messi in London. And if it is, what a way to go out. He was the difference, as he so often it on nights like this.
Had he been in a white shirt, Tottenham would have won. His passing made Barcelona’s first two goals, his wit and imagination secured the winner. He played a one-two, but not a conventional one-two, over a short distance. He found Jordi Alba on the flank from the heart of midfield, saw what was on and began running for the return. He arrived late and somehow alone. Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho sensed his presence and did not interfere. Messi met Alba’s cut back and passed it into the net. It was a thing of wonder. And 82,137 can saw they were there when it happened.
MATCH FACTS AND STATS
Tottenham: Lloris 4, Trippier 5.5, Alderweireld 4.5, Sanchez 4.5, Davies 5, Winks 5, Wanyama 4 (Dier 57, 6), Moura 6, Lamela 8 (Llorente 79, 5.5), Son 5.5 (Sissoko 66, 5.5), Kane 7.
Subs not used: Gazzaniga, Rose, Walker-Peters, Skipp.
Goals: Kane 52, Lamela 66
Bookings: Alderweireld, Wanyama, Lamela, Kane, Dier
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino 6
Barcelona: Ter Stegen 6, Semedo 7, Pique 6, Lenglet 6.5, Alba 8.5, Arthur 7.5 (Vidal 86, 5.5), Busquets 7 (Vermaelen 90, 5.5), Rakitic 8, Messi 9.5, L Suarez 8, Coutinho 8.5 (Rafinha 83, 5.5).
Subs not used: Cillessen, D Suarez, Dembele, Munir.
Goals: Coutinho 2, Rakitic 28, Messi 56 & 89
Bookings: Arthur, Busquets
Manager: Ernesto Valverde 7
Referee: Felix Zwayer (Germany) 6
It was also highly necessary. Soon after Hueng-Min Son fed Erik Lamela, whose shot clipped Sergio Busquets, and eluded Marc-Andre ter Stegen in Barcelona’s goal. There was just a single score in it for the last 25 minutes until Messi intervened again. Is it possible to have an assist without touching the ball? In which case, credit Suarez whose dummy was as good as any pass you will see all season, allowing Messi to go one on one with Hugo Lloris, a mismatch that could not have been any greater had the Argentinian been put in the ring with Antony Joshua here two weeks ago.
Yes, Barcelona had been much the better side, but credit Tottenham for at least clinging to their coat-tails. Shorn of Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen in the forward line, this was a huge achievement; two goals down at half-time they could have been swept aside. Yet while there is no shame in defeat, Tottenham have their work cut out from here. Two games, nil points, is a climb with a trip to Nou Camp and a home tie against Inter Milan to come. It is far from over if Tottenham can win home and away against PSV Eindhoven, but there is very little wriggle room from here. Certainly, they must start better in Holland next time out than they did here.
Considering Tottenham shipped two goals in the last ten minutes of their previous Champions League match, including injury time, to concede again within the first two minutes here was the stuff of nightmares. Mauricio Pochettino’s final instructions against a team of Barcelona’s prowess would have been to keep the match tight early on; Tottenham, by contrast, were looser than a charity shop polo neck. It doesn’t help, of course, that Barcelona start a game perfectly on point – ready to inflict damage from the moment it begins.