herald

Monday 11 December 2017

Messi won't give up his prize easily

Lionel Messi served notice that Wayne Rooney will not have it his own way when it comes to the Fifa World Player of the Year award.

The Argentina forward showcased his sublime talents with a masterclass to inspire Barcelona into the Champions League quarter-finals at the expense of Stuttgart.

Messi struck a brilliant opener after 13 minutes to put the holders on track, then played a key role as Pedro Rodríguez made it 2-0 just after the half hour.

Messi, who was a constant menace for the Catalan side, added a third in the 60th minute to take his tally to eight goals in his past four games, before substitute Bojan Krkic completed the 4-0 romp as Barcelona became Spain's only representative to reach the last eight.

Real Madrid, whose Bernabéu stadium will stage this year's final, and Seville were dumped out in the round of 16, and Atlético Madrid bade farewell to the competition after the group stage.

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola started with Thierry Henry leading the attack in preference to Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the France forward was the home side's biggest threat early on, bringing a save out of Jens Lehmann in the second minute. But it was Messi who took centre stage after that.

Fresh from his stunning hat-trick in Sunday's 3-0 league win over Valencia -- his second since the turn of the year -- Messi broke the deadlock with a superb finish.

Yaya Touré fed the reigning world player of the year near the halfway line and the Argentinian sidestepped several tentative challenges before unleashing an unstoppable shot from the edge of the area that flew high past Lehmann.

Messi turned provider nine minutes later. His brilliant pass inside the Stuttgart right flank was latched on to by Touré, whose first-time pass inside was slotted home by Rodríguez.

Those two early strikes put the home side in control of the tie, having drawn 1-1 in Germany three weeks ago, and with the Bundesliga side creating little to trouble Víctor Valdés and his Barca defence, Guardiola's men went into the half-time interval knowing that only a huge reversal of fortunes in the second half would deny them a place in the next round.

The script did not change at all though, with Messi again featuring heavily. He set up Touré for a low shot that fizzed just wide in the 55th minute before extending Barcelona's lead five minutes later.

Rodríguez's pass back to the edge of area was cleverly flicked into Messi's path by Daniel Alves, and the 22-year-old spun past Timo Gebhart and drilled another left-footed shot beyond the helpless Lehmann from 20 yards out.

That was Messi's fourth Champions League goal of the season and it took his tally to 29 in all competitions.

It ended any doubt about which team would be in tomorrow's draw for the quarter-finals and semi-finals, with the only question left being how many more goals Barcelona would add against a Stuttgart side that has struggled in the German Bundesliga this season and who will need a tremendous end to the campaign if they are to get back into the Champions League.

Messi had two chances to complete his hat-trick. First he was denied by a superb save by Lehmann from a downward header and then he put the ball wide with only the former Arsenal goalkeeper to beat.

Ibrahimovic came off the bench to play in his fellow substitute Bojan in the 89th minute for the final goal, a low shot from outside the area.

© The Times, London

Promoted articles

Entertainment News