SANT JOAN DESPI, Spain (AP) There is no questioning allowed at Barcelona when it comes to Lionel Messi’s status as the greatest player in football.
That’s clearly why Barcelona coach Luis Enrique took issue with an assessment from Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini that Messi would have a tougher time scoring goals in the more defensive Italian league.
”I don’t doubt that he can score against any team in any league in the world,” Luis Enrique said Tuesday ahead of this weekend’s Champions League final in Berlin against the Serie A winner. ”The figure of Messi as the best player in the history of football is beyond doubt.”
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Messi has scored a staggering 58 goals in all competitions this season, and No. 57 was an eye-popping solo run through four defenders before slotting home a strike from a tight angle to open Barcelona’s 3-1 win over Athletic Bilbao in the domestic cup final last weekend.
While rejecting the label of favorite, Barcelona is confident that with Messi playing his best a fifth European Cup is theirs for the taking.
Since his debut in 2003, the 27-year-old Messi has helped Barcelona win 23 titles, including three Champions League crowns. The club’s all-time leading scorer has netted in the two Champions League finals he played against Manchester United FC in 2009 and 2011. He has tallied a total of 20 goals in the 23 finals in all competitions he has disputed for the club.
And if he scores against Juventus, he will become the first player to ever find the net in three Champions League finals.
”It’s a Champions League final, we have to go through a lot to make it to the final because we know it is not easy to become champions again,” Messi told UEFA’s website. ”Our dream is to win it all. We know that we will face a very tricky opponent. They are very strong, Juventus are a big team. It is a final and anything can happen, but we will prepare and approach it as we have approached finals before.”
Both Barcelona and Juventus are aiming to complete trebles. But even with the advantage of counting on the four-time world player of the year, Luis Enrique agreed with midfielder Xavi Hernandez that the final was ”evenly matched.”
”I say it everyday, being called a favorite is very good after you win,” the coach said at Barcelona’s training ground. ”First you have to prove it. Given the two club’s traditions and budgets, there is very little difference between them. The team that does things better, creating more chances and scoring more goals, will end up being the favorite because it will have won the match. We will do our best to be that team.”