Barca president hails magical Messi

MADRID - Lionel Messi's stunning hat-trick against Valencia on Sunday underlined the Argentina forward's status as FIFA World Player of the Year and earned him effusive praise from Barcelona president Joan Laporta.

La Liga top scorer Messi netted his 20th, 21st and 22nd goals of the season to fire the European champions to a 3-0 victory over Valencia.

"He was brilliant, spectacular," Laporta told reporters.

"Today Leo deserves all the plaudits because the match was very tight," he added. "He's a genius but he manages to stay humble and respectful."

Barca, who surrendered top spot to arch-rivals Real Madrid last weekend when they were held to a 2-2 draw at Almeria, needed a convincing performance to get their title defence back on course and it was Messi who made the difference.

He ghosted through the Valencia defence in the 56th minute and rifled a close-range shot past goalkeeper Cesar Sanchez.

His second and third goals came from assists by France captain Thierry Henry.

Henry lofted the ball out to Messi on the right in the 81st, and he sprinted into the area to curl the ball beyond Sanchez, before again leaving the visiting defence flat-footed and dinking the ball past the Valencia keeper into the net.

Valencia coach Unai Emery praised his players for keeping Barca at bay in the first half but said Messi had been the difference.

"He is possibly the best player in the world and part of a great team like Barcelona," he told a news conference.

Assistant Barca coach Tito Vilanova, on the bench in place of the suspended Pep Guardiola, paid tribute to substitute Henry, who scored a hat-trick against Valencia last season.

"Bringing Henry on gave us more depth and we were above all able to pressure Valencia much more as they brought the ball out of defence," he said at a news conference. "Henry created more freedom of movement (for Messi)."

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