Guess whose great goal won the Copa del Rey? Tim Stannard reflects on more Messi magic...
La Liga Loca’s father-in-law happened to be in town at the same time as the Copa del Rey final. The Texan gentleman had never heard of Leo Messi, in the same way that someone from Felixstowe would be unfamiliar with the lover of shrivelled balls, Tom Brady. He wasn’t even that fussed by soccer in general – but came close to firing his metaphorical six-shooter into the air when witnessing Leo Messi’s solo stunner against Athletic Bilbao.
The important factor to remember with this particular strike – which set Barcelona en route to a 3-1 victory to complete the domestic Double – is that the skittle-like Athletic players sent this way and that are no mugs. They are footballers of the highest quality. But Messi just carved through them as if they were indifferent pub players after six pints.
The last time the blog saw the Argentine doing anything similar – just the three players, from memory – was in Vallecas against Rayo, a goal that the Rayo fans reacted to with a short intake of breath and then a fair amount of applause. “If he’s not unstoppable, then he’s nearly unstoppable,” said Athletic coach Ernesto Valverde after the cup final clash.
Naturally, the strike made the headlines in Spain’s Sunday papers. But so did the rather inevitable complaints that the national anthem was roundly booed by the supporters of Athletic and Barcelona. Indeed, the Madrid-based press seemed quite pleased by the reported 119 decibels recorded, having spent the week wringing its hands over the prospect and almost goading the two sets of fans hailing largely from the Basque Country and Catalonia.
The Spanish FA will be having a look at what punishments can be meted out to the two clubs involved, with their supporters having recklessly exercised their democratic right to act how they darn well please in reaction to a wordless ditty that pays tribute to an unelected monarch.
Quite rightly, the Barcelona-based journalists wanted to focus only on the win and the majesty of Messi, although most have long since given up seeking ways to describe the forward’s imperious prowess: “A footballer that we pointlessly try to define with adjectives, that simply aren’t enough,” admits Mundo Deportivo’s Joan Josep Pallàs.
Barça vs Juventus (and Real)
With the rest of La Liga over for a good week now, Barcelona are still in limbo, waiting and waiting and waiting for the Champions League final and the chance to complete a Treble that looked immensely unlikely back in January, with Messi missing a training session after a match on the bench against Real Sociedad and reportedly looking at dethroning Luis Enrique.
With 120 goals between them, the collective efforts of Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez have now topped the 2012 triumvirate of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuaín. The next challenge will come from next season’s ABC from Real Madrid – Arizmendi, Bale and Cristiano.
The Juventus players will no doubt be studying Messi’s wonder-strike as well as Jerome “Timber!” Boateng’s tree-felling display in the Bayern Munich semi-final. However, as any Athletic Bilbao defender could tell them, knowing what Messi is going to do and actually preventing him from doing it are two separate kettles of fish.