'Messi is not of this world', claims Buffon as Juventus revel in underdogs tag ahead of Champions League final
An alien. An extra-terrestrial. The god of football.
These are just some of the words that the Juventus players tasked with stopping Lionel Messi in Saturday's Champions League final have used to describe the Barcelona star.
But stop him they must if Juventus is to have a hope of winning Europe's elite club competition for the first time since 1996.
The match pits the world's best outfield player against arguably the world's best goalkeeper in Gianluigi Buffon and it will be the first time the two greats of football meet.
Messi is attempting to make history by becoming the first player to score in three Champions League finals, while Buffon is hoping to add a first Champions League winners' medal to his glittering haul of trophies - after losing the 2003 final with Juventus. "Messi is an extra-terrestrial who plays with us humans," Buffon said.
"So we hope that on June 6 he returns to earth and becomes a human too."
Juventus fullback Stephan Lichtsteiner was more positive, urging his fellow defenders to draw on their semifinal experience against Barcelona's La Liga rival Real Madrid.
Juventus beat Real Madrid 2-1 at home, with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring for the Spanish side, and progressed following a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu, where it limited the Portugal star to a penalty.
"(Messi is) one of the best players in the history of football," Lichsteiner said. "It's difficult to stop him for the whole 90 minutes but we did that with Ronaldo so I think that as a team we can do a lot. ... We'll defend as a squad, winning our individual duels, and trying not give him too much space.
Messi has scored a staggering 58 goals for Barcelona this season, but he is just one part of a fearsome attacking trio. Messi, Neymar (38 goals) and Luis Suarez (24) have scored 120 times between them this season, making them the most prolific frontline ever.
"What do I think about when I see that front three? Applauding!" Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci said. "No, obviously the front three scare anyone but Barca isn't just those three up front but a collective of footballers which play for each other. That's why we have to be perfect in defense because we also have weapons to hit them with and do them harm.
"We know that if we let our guard down the slightest, anyone can hurt us. But if we remain focused from the first to the last second, we can really make history with this club."
Suarez is back to his formidable best after returning from a biting ban. And Neymar is looking to become the first player to score in both legs of a quarterfinal, semifinal and final in the same Champions League season.
Suarez has faced Buffon twice, with Ajax in the Europa League and at last year's World Cup with Uruguay, and never beaten the veteran goalkeeper. Neymar has scored once against Buffon, with a free kick, when playing for Brazil at the 2013 Confederation's Cup. "I think it's the strongest attacking trio in the world," Buffon said. "They have an offensive power which is certainly scary but we also have weapons, not maybe to stop them with but to limit them a bit."