Facing its toughest opponent of the season, Barcelona once again turned to Lionel Messi to move the team within one step of reaching its first Champions League final in four seasons.

Messi scored his 599th and 600th goals for Barcelona to subdue a Liverpool lineup that had outplayed the hosts for long stretches at Camp Nou on Wednesday but finally succumbed to the Argentine’s mastery.

His double and Luis Suárez’ early goal against his former club gave Barcelona a commanding 3-0 win in the first leg of the Champions League semifinals.

Messi has won the Champions League four times but his hunger to restore Barcelona as the best club team on the continent was evident against Liverpool, when he had to almost singlehandedly quash a ferocious comeback attempt by the visitors after Suárez’ 26th-minute opener.

Messi doubled the lead from a rebound with 15 minutes left and followed that up by curling in a perfectly struck free kick in the 82nd.

Mohamed Salah nearly scored a valuable away goal for Liverpool to take back to next week’s return leg at Anfield when he hit the post late.

“It is not over because we are going to a ground that is very difficult, with lots of history, that presses rivals, but we are happy with today’s game,” Messi said. “This is the critical moment, the best moment, and we have to be more united than ever. At the start of the year we said we would do this together.”

Messi’s double also took his overall tally for the season to 48 goals and his Champions League-leading tally to 12 this campaign.

It was a bitter loss for Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool, which is trying to reach consecutive European finals after losing last year’s decider to Real Madrid.

Even though striker Roberto Firmino was only fit enough for the final 12 minutes, Liverpool dominated long stretches of the match but failed to finish its chances.

“I think that it was the best we have played in the Champions League, including last year,” Klopp said. “We had good chances and caused them real trouble. The problem is that we didn’t score a goal.”

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