FIFA hand Barca a timely morale boost as Madrid face 'the first final'

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After hours of its passengers and crew screaming, hollering and generally making a bit of a racket, the dead in the water Barça boat was finally thrown a lifeline by FIFA’s passing luxury liner.

Rather than contemplate the fact the title race looks half way lost after Sunday’s draw with Espanyol opened a five point gap below the forces of Mordor in Madrid, the Ballon d’Or prize handed to a smoking jacket wearing Leo Messi on Monday evening gave the Catalan press the opportunity for some timely smugness.

As ever, Sport lead the way, with Josep Maria Casanovas going above and beyond the call of bragging duty by boasting that the event was “a recognition of the best club in the world. A homage to the stars that have turned the Camp Nou into the capital of world football. An extraordinary promotion.”

Over at Mundo Deportivo towers, Santi Nolla wanted to go on bended knee before Messi and Pep Guardiola for their personal tributes to Xavi and Tito Vilanova respectively after picking up their awards for best player and best manager. “The words and gestures in Zurich clearly show that the success of Barcelona, a great team, comes from sharing.

Although Marca were unusually generous in putting Leo Messi on the front cover of Tuesday’s edition in honour of the Argentinean’s award, the paper’s main concern - and that of AS - is Madrid’s Copa del Rey last 16, second leg clash with Málaga. Although there are technically five more games to be played until the final and Madrid have a handy 3-2 lead, Marca are fretting that the game in La Rosaleda is “the first final.”

Even Gonzalo Higuaín is getting in on the act by claiming that Málaga “always have good games against us” - aside from the 3-2 loss last week, the 4-0 defeat earlier in the season, the 7-0 thrashing last year, and the fact that Málaga have not beaten Madrid since the 1983-84 season...

The Cristiano Ronaldo sulk-gate story lingers on, with José Mourinho defending his pouting player. “If you are going to criticise a player for not celebrating goals then criticise me as I didn’t celebrate any of them,” said the Madrid manager. The other main story is Marca’s claim - and that of the footballer’s agent, no doubt - that English clubs are sniffing around Angel di María, with the player trying to renew his contract with the club and arrange a hefty pay rise.

There are two other matches also taking place on Tuesday night, with Racing Santander trying to spare some Cantabrian blushes by turning around a 2-0 deficit from the first leg against third tier Mirandés whilst Mallorca look to overturn the same scoreline at home to Real Sociedad.