herald

Sunday 4 December 2016

Paul Hyland

Messi on a different football planet

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PEP Guardiola said it before the game and he was right on the money. You can't stop Lionel Messi.

In fact, the best thing to do when he's on the pitch, ball at his feet and in full flight, is to kick back and enjoy. Breathe in deeply and realise how lucky we are to be alive when this man is about his work.

Most defenders have no choice but to do just that when he wriggles and shimmies and legs go one way and the rest of him another. It's hard enough to keep track of him, never mind the ball.

Ronaldo? Not in the same league. Real Madrid get the same end result from the walking advertisement for male hair care products in terms of goals but he makes noise he doesn't need to make and cannot bear the idea of a rival in the same shirt.

There shouldn't even be a debate. If you like your hero brash, self-centred to the point of obsessiveness and more than willing to hang a team-mate out to dry if the cameras are on him, choose Ronaldo.

For skill without frills, Messi is the man.

Guardiola's return to Barcelona was heading towards a high tempo stalemate at the Nou Camp after 76 minutes filled with misfiring strikers and mighty Manuel Neuer

The world numjbeer one netminder dealt with just about everything Messi, Suarez and Neymar could throw at him and saved Guardiola's blushes on several occasions.

And even though Barcelona clearly had the beating of Bayern Munich, Guardiola's team had weathered the worst and if anything, seemed to be building towards a dominant finish.

FLASH

In a flash, however, Messi opened his eyes, saw a gap and ripped a shot inside Neuer's near post, about as hard a thing as there is to do in world football right now.

Like Messi, Neuer is attracting a comparison with the greatest of all time and sits well in the company of Zoff, Kahn, Jennings, Schmiechel and Buffon.

Up to last night, Messi had never scored against him but in three devastating minutes, he made a mug of Neuer.

The first time, he did it from 25 yards, a low drive which whizzed through the only gap available and the second from much closer with a glorious, feathery dink which the German knew was beyond him the moment it left the little genius's foot.

It was two knock-out blows in the time it takes to soft boil an egg and the fate of this Champions League semi-final was decided. Neymar's last-gasp third goal was just icing.

No surprise then that everyone was overflowing with praise for Messi after the 3-0 win which all but guarantees Barcelona's place in another Champions League final.

Manager Luis Enrique reckons that Messi is a footballer "from another dimension" and that summed it up nicely.

He warps time and space around him in the same way George Best played with the laws of gravity.

"Beyond what Leo did in attack, look at how much he ran in defence," said Enrique, underlining why Messi is the best on the planet.

Before the game, Guardiola observed that he would probably be a third Division manager in Spain but for Messi's wizardry. After it, his frustration showed.

"I will not say what I think of Messi.They are not just Leo, Barca are a very good team. We tried to control the game so that Messi would not participate so much. We were 15 minutes away from a very good result."

Maybe they were. But they were also an eye-blink away from a hammering while Messi was on the pitch

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