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Messi magic and the Italian edge

Messi magic and the Italian edge
FC Barcelona is on the brink of reaching their eighth European Cup final after eviscerating FC Bayern München in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg. Star striker Lionel Messi, playing in his 100th European game, dazzled his way past Pep Guardiola’s men, scoring twice before creating a late third for Neymar, as Barcelona romped home to a 3-0 victory. It was a game where the Argentine, yet again, proved himself to be the best player in the world. After the match, in an illuminating tribute to the best player in the world, British sports columnist Barnay Ronay said, “At the Camp Nou Messi scored two brilliant goals, made a third and at times yawned his way around champion opponents like a man tactfully avoiding a gaggle of overheated toddlers in a high street coffee shop. Often he took the ball and shimmied past two or three men, operating within a kind of fermata, events slowed and paused around him, and providing a reminder that he remains one of the great dribblers, master of the flip-flap, the surge, the amphetamine-crazed-millipede shift of feet.” It was Messi’s night.

Messi leaves Barcelona in total command
On his first return to the Camp Nou, Josep Guardiola opted to play three at the back, marking man for man from the off. Unable to contain Barcelona’s dynamic trio, Pep soon changed the system to a back four. The match would begin with both teams pressing high and it was breathless, exhilarating. Barcelona and Bayern were quick to challenge for the ball, identified as a mutual objective, and quicker to go for the throat. Alves, supposedly a full-back, made more tackles on the edge of Bayern’s box than on the edge of his own, while Alonso, theoretically a deep midfielder, pressured the goalkeeper. Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer was on hand to deny Barcelona clear goal-scoring chances with immaculate reflexes and anticipation. As you’d expect, he made frequent cameos outside his area, including a rush of blood to the head at the hour-mark when he pipped Neymar to a through ball.

Despite suffering jaw and nose injuries the previous week, Pep started the game with striker Robert Lewandowski. Although the Pole was anonymous early on, he took centre stage in the 18th minute, only to fluff his lines. The game was open, fast, switching between control and counters, a sense of vertigo taking hold. Bayern had more possession than Barcelona, only the second team to do so in 442 games. Conceding possession and hitting Bayern on the counterattack, besides the manic pressing up front by Luis Suarez, are dimensions to Barcelona’s game that manager Luis Enrique has added. Barcelona centre-back Gerard Piqué admitted that the counterattack, a new weapon this season, was essential here. Barcelona created chances, while Bayern did not have a shot on target, reinforcing Enrique’s insistence this was not all about one man.

Bayern’s hopes are hanging by a thread. Guardiola was humbled in the fortress that was once his and Barcelona have one-foot in the final.  In a interview after the match Enrique said, “I hope my best night is yet to come, but this was a good night for sure, it was a hugely enjoyable one; a fascinating, frantic game in which even the goalkeepers played football and pushed high, attackers as well as defenders, and one that ended with Manuel Neuer beaten three times.” It will take more than a miracle for Bayern to reverse this score line at home.

Old lady holds the edge
A rejuvenated Juventus side claimed a precious 2-1 victory over defending champions Real Madrid in a pulsating UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg. The Old Lady (Juventus) started with a 4-4-2 diamond, surprising many with the inclusion of Stefano Sturaro in the line-up at the expense of Roberto Pereyra. Real Madrid went for a 4-4-2 formation with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale upfront. Sergio Ramos played in central midfield again with Pepe in the defensive line alongside Raphael Varane.  Inside the first 20 minutes alone, Real attempted to force the game and play passes over the top of a defensive line that did not sit particularly high. Although one pass did catch them out, Ronaldo thrashed a hurried effort wide. Most of Real’s passes, however, were either inaccurate or forced. This tactic, though, could be attributed to a two-man disadvantage Real faced in midfield. Juventus were dogged and determined off the ball too, making their man advantage count out of possession as well as on it. Former Real Madrid striker Alvarao Morata and Carlos Tevez worked hard to block Real midfielder conductor Toni Kroos’s passing lanes to his full-backs. Ramos looked so ruffled and had a poor game throughout.  As Los Blancos forced their passes throughout the night, the home side’s threat on the counter grew. The key to this game for Real Madrid was retaining width. They were always going to have to push their full-backs high up to create it. In the first six minutes Juventus engineered three counter attacks, as they quickly worked the ball into space with neat interplay between the forward duo Carlos Tevez and Alvaro Morata. The opening goal was, however, did not emanate from a counterattack. Tevez’s shot inside the box was saved by Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas, only for Morata to tap home the rebound.  Madrid had to get themselves back into the game intelligently, with Juventus defending deep. It was some neat combination play on the right that saw James Rodriguez tee up Cristiano Ronaldo for the equaliser.

With Real manager Carlo Ancelotti introducing Javier Hernandez in place of midfielder Isco, the side switched to 4-3-3 formation that suits them better. Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri switched to a 3-5-2 formation after 60 minutes, replacing Sturaro with Andrea Barzagli. It further solidified their hold in the centre and gave them an extra centre-back in the box to deal with crosses from the opposition. The move was effective in shutting down the game. Allegri’s men played on the counter attack, with midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo dictating play from deep. The second goal finally came courtesy of a counter attack led by Carlos Tevez, who tore into the opposition box. The Argentine striker was tripped by Real’s on-rushing right-back Danny Carvajal, resulting in a crucial penalty. Tevez netted the penalty with aplomb.

Gareth Bale’s performance was heavily criticised yet again. Carlo Ancelotti, however, came to the Welshman’s defence. “Gareth Bale was tired. He’s just back from injury and he’s too important for us – he’s our most dangerous player, and because he was tired I just preferred not to take any risks so I took him off,”  Ancelotti said. He also said that his side had made more mistakes than usual. The tie, though, is far from over. Real’s precious away goal at Turin may come back to haunt Allegri’s side in the return fixture in Madrid. “Juventus needs a masterpiece in Madrid. Now we prepare for Wednesday knowing we have to play even better than tonight,” Allegri said. The Juventus manager will be also sweating on midfield sensation Paul Pogba’s fitness. “If everything goes well, I hope to give Paul Pogba a bit of a run-out on Saturday because I can’t take him to Madrid without him having played a bit,” he said.

Interesting facts
At the tender age of 11, Lionel Messi was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency syndrome that played a big part in reducing his body height. Despite all these difficulties, Messi went on developing his football skills to become one of the world’s finest footballers. 

The middle name of Lionel Messi, probably the greatest football player in the World is Andres; a name that is rarely used to refer to this ingenious player. The name was given by his parents who are believed to be the descendants of early Italian immigrants who settled in Argentina. Only a few people refer to Messi with this name. His full name is Lionel Andre’s Messi.

Lionel Messi played his Youth football career for Newell’s Old Boys football club between the year 1995 and 2000 before being signed by FC club Barcelona in Spain. Newell’s Old Boys football club is accredited for sharpening Messi’s football skills at early times of his life when he was so vulnerable.
l Messi received the prestigious FIFA World Player of the year nominations in 2008 when he was only 21 years old. Although he did not win it, he is among the youngest football players to be nominated for this award. He went on winning the award for the next four consecutive years.

In 2009, he won his first FIFA World Player of the Year award. He was 22 years old at the time. He went on winning this award for the next three years. 


Shirin Bithal

Shirin Bithal

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