BARCELONA • Antonio Conte has praised Lionel Messi as the kind of player who emerges only "once every 50 years" after the Barcelona forward registered his 100th Champions League goal en route to eliminating Chelsea in the last 16.
Messi, who had failed to score in his first eight appearances against the London club, scored three of Barca's four goals over the two legs as the LaLiga leaders progressed into the quarter-finals.
Chelsea manager Conte sought out Messi at the final whistle to express admiration at his display as they departed the turf following Barca's 3-0 win at the Nou Camp.
"A fantastic player moved the final result, moved the qualification over the two legs," the Italian said.
"I have to praise the commitment of my players because they gave everything. But Messi made the difference and it's right to praise a super, super, super top player. A player who is able to score 60 goals in every season. Not only for one season. We are talking about an extraordinary player, the best in the world.
"He's a player who can change the final result for any team he is playing in. But he started to play with Barcelona and, for sure, he will finish his career in Barcelona.
"This type of player is born once every 50 years. We are talking about one single player with this capacity, with this ability, with these skills. He's fantastic."
Conte considered his own side unfortunate to exit 4-1 on aggregate after striking the woodwork four times over the two legs, only to be undone by Messi's brilliance.
Messi's opener against Chelsea was the fastest goal he has scored ( for both Barcelona and Argentina).
Lionel Messi has now scored 100 Champions League goals in 123 appearances, 14 fewer than it took Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo to reach the milestone.
After failing to score in his first 10 Champions League appearances against English teams, Messi has since netted 19 goals in his last 18 games.
On Wednesday, the Argentinian once again proved the difference, applying two clinical finishes through the legs of Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and. In between, he teed up Ousmane Dembele for his first Barcelona goal.
After unfurling a banner reading "God Save The King" before kick-off, Barca's fans were celebrating after just 128 seconds as Messi found the net before Chelsea had even strung two passes together.
His second goal was also his 100th in the Champions League, coming in his 123rd appearance.
He becomes just the second player to score a century of goals in Europe's premier club competition, following Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, who has 117 goals in 152 games.
It also caps a momentous five days for the 30-year-old Argentinian, who sat out Saturday's LaLiga win over Malaga to attend to the birth of his third child.
"He knows in certain moments stars have to come out. He forces himself to do that," Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said of Messi. "There's no guarantee that he's going to score, but he is a fantastic player.
"To have Messi in the team is a luxury, he's such a good player that in any move he can create danger against you. Our attacking play goes through him and any move is improved by his touch.
"We're lucky enough to be seeing something that will go down in history."
Messi has been on the books of the Catalan side throughout his career and so has Barca captain Andres Iniesta, who signed a lifetime contract with the club in October.
The 33-year-old playmaker has been linked with Chinese Super League side Tianjin Quanjian, however.
And although Tianjin have denied reports linking them with a move, Iniesta confirmed on Wednesday that a Chinese team have made an offer for him.
"I must decide before April 30 whether to stay at Barcelona or go to China. I have to weigh up which is best for me and the club," he said.
With Manchester United dumped out by Sevilla and Tottenham outmanoeuvred by Juventus, Chelsea's exit means for all the talk of a Premier League resurgence, Liverpool and Manchester City are its two remaining representatives in the draw for the quarter-finals that takes place today.
From Spain, Sevilla and Barcelona will be joined by Real Madrid, who saw off the challenge of Paris Saint-Germain last week. Italy's Roma, Juventus and German giants Bayern Munich complete the line-up for the last eight.
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS