Antonio Conte hailed Lionel Messi as the “best in the world” after he inspired Barcelona to a 4-1 aggregate victory over Chelsea in the last-16 of the Champions League.
Messi was the star of the show at the Nou Camp, punishing Chelsea as Barca advanced to the Champions League quarter-finals for the 11th successive season with a 3-0 win on the night at the Nou Camp.
After eight appearances without a goal against Chelsea, Messi settled this tie by scoring the equaliser in last month’s first leg and two goals here, either side of Ousmane Dembele’s first Barca goal, for a 4-1 aggregate success.
And Conte was quick to compliment the Argentine forward, whose second strike was his 100th in the Champions League.
“When you have the opportunity to make a great compliment to Messi, it is right,” Conte said. “It is right to recognise a super super super top player.
“He is able to score 60 goals every season. I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to give him my compliment. We are talking about an extraordinary player – the best in the world.
“I think Leo wants to stay until the end with Barcelona,” he added. “We must have great respect for this player. We are talking about a fantastic player. He wants to stay in Barcelona until the end of his career and this is the best for him, he is writing a great story for Barcelona with his team-mates.”
On what proved to be a difficult night for Chelsea, they had their chances with Marcos Alonso shooting straight at Marc-Andre ter Stegen before N’Golo Kante fired wide.
Alonso then struck the outside of a post with a free-kick before half-time before a brilliant covering tackle by Dembele denied Alonso a shooting chance.
Conte, who was furious referee Damir Skomina’s decision not to award Chelsea a penalty for a challenge on Alonso in the second half, praised his side’s commitment and urged them to continue in the same vein until the end of the season.
“To watch the game you can see that the result is unfair,” he said. “Our start was terrible, to concede a goal after two minutes, but after this, we tried to play football and dominated for a long time in the game.
“We were very unlucky. We showed that we can play in both ways, for sure the first leg, defensively, we were more compact, only after our mistake they scored.
“Tonight they scored three times, we didn’t deserve this. There was a penalty for Alonso, and if we scored at 2-1, we can put pressure on Barcelona.
“We hit the post four times”, he added. “This is very strange.
“I must be honest, I must be very proud of the commitment of my players, they gave everything. We have to continue in this way to fight and this desire to fight together.
“I think when you take these decisions, to play with Eden, Willian and a striker as a point of reference you must be very good to have a great balance. Tonight I saw great commitment from all my players, they wanted to play this game.”