Little maestro hits another remarkable note
Sunday 29 May 2011
Finally after 681 minutes it came. Leo Messi's 54th-minute goal last night was his first in England and it came so soon after it had seemed that he had missed his greatest opportunity to break a duck that had seen him play seven matches for Barcelona and one for Argentina without scoring on English soil.
At 23 Messi is already running out of records and milestones and after failing to find the net at Anfield, Old Trafford, the Emirates and Stamford Bridge he chose the greatest stage to write another chapter in his extraordinary story.
Nine minutes into the second half he flashed his shot past Edwin van der Sar, the man he should have beaten one minute before the break. It was on 44 minutes of the first period he set off on another mazy run from just inside Manchester United's half before unleashing David Villa down the Barcelona right and it looked as though Villa would squeeze his shot in at the near post as Pedro had just done to beat the United goalkeeper.
But instead Villa – who would make amends with a sublime third in the second half – flashed the ball across the face of the six-yard box where Messi was hurtling towards the advancing Van der Sar. The Argentine arrived just too late as the ball fizzed off the wet Wembley turf and past them both for a goal-kick.
Messi sunk to his knees in disbelief before walking forlornly back towards the halfway line.
When the whistle was blown a minute later he went down the tunnel with the look of a man who had missed his chance to bury a demon but with his 52rd goal of the season he put things right.
Barcelona's first-half goal came without a meaningful contribution from Barcelona's No 10. Andres Iniesta had played in Xavi and Pedro had peeled away into space. He was then found brilliantly by the Barcelona captain and scored Barcelona's first.
That goal was then cancelled out by Wayne Rooney and the possibility presented itself that he could finally eclipse his opposite No 10. Twelve months earlier, he had been set that task ahead of the South Africa World Cup and had fallen so far short that to even contemplating him doing it in the Champions' League final would not have been believable.
Rooney was inspired and Messi frustrated; until that second-half moment of brilliance. After he had put Barcelona ahead he went in search of a 53th goal of the campaign.
Cristiano Ronaldo has scored that many but his tally has been assisted by Real Madrid's obsession with their centre-forward finishing as top scorer. Many of his end of season goals came in unimportant matches – Messi's goals have come in the biggest games of the season. He got the two that saw Barcelona establish a two goal first leg-lead against Real Madrid in the semi-final with one of the goals of the tournament and last night's goal brought him level with Ruud van Nistelrooy for 12 goals scored in one Champions' League campaign.
When Barcelona celebrated winning their league at the end of this season the microphone was passed from player to player on the pitch at the end of their last game.
Players gave long speeches thanking the crowd and praising team-mates but when it was passed to the Barcelona No 10 he said that he would do his talking on 29 May.
Today – 29 May – he will take the plaudits as Barcelona supporters celebrate their fourth European Cup. Yesterday was the day he finally buried that English hoodoo.
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