Messi evokes memories of Maradona and Villa

LONDON - Barcelona's Lionel Messi brought back memories of outstanding performances by his Argentine compatriots Diego Maradona and Ricky Villa at Wembley with his match-winning display in the Champions League Final on Saturday.

Messi got his first goal on English soil to put Barca 2-1 up against Manchester United after 54 minutes and created the third for David Villa with an outrageous shimmy, move and pass with 21 minutes left as they won 3-1 to claim their fourth European Cup.

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The 23-year-old World Player of the Year was unplayable coming from deep positions to unsettle the United defence during a one-sided final in which he not only scored his 53rd goal of a remarkable season but also equalled Ruud van Nistelrooy's record of 12 Champions League goals in one campaign.

He made his mark at the same end of the pitch, albeit in the rebuilt Wembley, that Maradona and Villa did in the early 1980s.

Maradona, aged just 19 in May 1980, had already begun to make a name for himself starring for Argentina in the World Youth Cup when he played against England.

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England won the friendly 3-1 but the lasting memory of the game was Maradona's brilliant performance, capped by an astonishing run through the defence in which he jinked this way and that before an audacious shot narrowly missed the goal when it bounced centimetres past the far post.

A year later Villa, playing for Tottenham Hotspur in the replayed FA Cup Final against Manchester City, earned an everlasting place in English folklore with a goal that regularly wins the accolade of best ever scored in the final.

After a poor performance in the original game in which he was substituted, the tall bearded Argentine scored twice in the replay as Spurs won 3-2 - the second a mazy jinking run through the City defence which ended with the match-winning goal.

Messi's strike was not as spectacular as Maradona's attempt or Villa's goal but his overall performance in Barcelona's outstanding victory will long be remembered in Buenos Aires and north London - even if they would rather forget it in Manchester.