Messi's magic becoming recurring theme

April 3, 2012

Lionel Messi scored twice to rewrite the record books, and carried Barcelona to the Champions League semifinals with a 3-1 win over AC Milan Tuesday night. Messi scored his 14th goal of the competition to tie a 50-year-old European Cup record, while also becoming the youngest man ever to hit the 50-goal mark in this tournament.

In the other quarterfinal match, Bayern Munich cruised past Marseille, to win out 4-0 on aggregate to set up a likely meeting with Real Madrid. The Germans made it look easy at the Allianz, as Ivica Olic scored two fine goals to lead the Germans one step closer to a chance to play at Allianz Arena in the Champions League final May 19.

The only name you need to know from tonight’s matches: Messi. What a stat line; three goals created, two goals scored, two records made and one big win. It was a sumptuous performance that both exhausted AC Milan and delighted fans of technical soccer worldwide.

It’s not possible to argue that Messi isn’t the greatest player on the planet. In fact, it is increasingly difficult to argue that he is not the greatest of all time. Madrid die-hards and Milan fans will grumble, but the fact is that Messi creates and scores nearly at will, and tonight his invention led to both of his goals from the spot.


In what would become a recurring theme of the night, Messi ripped past Philippe Mexes in the tenth minute to force Luca Antonini to foul him to stop the attack. Antonini was lucky not to see red on the play, but Messi seemed untroubled and his finish past Christian Abbiati from the spot was silky smooth.

That goal could have started an easy night for the defending champions, but Milan brought the match to life and temporarily made Barcelona partisans quiver, when Antonio Nocerino tied the match on the night and — for a few minutes — had his team on the road to the semifinals via the away goals rule.

That lasted only eight minutes.

The second penalty award was no less obvious, but reactions to it broke along partisan lines. The vastly experienced Alessandro Nesta was foolish to grab Sergio Busquet’s shirt with both mitts, and the award was strictly by the book. Milan argued to no avail that Carles Puyol was equally to blame for the incident, but referee Bjorn Kuipers didn’t buy it.

The capper came when the beleaguered Mexes tried to stop a Messi shot with a body block that only succeeded in sending the ball wide left to Andres Iniesta. He was all alone and couldn’t miss.

There is a sweet irony in the fact that the record Messi equaled today was set long ago by an AC Milan player. Jose Altafini’s 14 goals during the 1962-63 campaign have been equated but never surpassed by Ruud van Nistelrooy or Messi. Altafini is unlikely to hold this honor much longer, however, as the little magician seems intent on proving any of his doubters wrong.

Bayern Munich didn't even bother to start its goal-scoring tandem of Mario Gomez and Arjen Robben, in a second leg that was an exercise rather than a contest, as Marseille were effectively dispatched a week ago when the Germans took their 2-0 first leg lead.

Robben's replacement, Olic, scored both goals in another 2-0 victory that was accomplished by halftime. The teams played the second 45 minutes because the rules required it, with only Franck Ribery looking to get a decent workout.

Ribery, barracked a week ago by his former home fans and effectively contained by Marseille’s defense, inspired both goals in the second leg. He flew by three defenders to set up Olic in the 13th minute, and ran all of 70 meters before freeing David Alaba on the left for a brilliant counter attack that completed the scoring. Alaba's cross was collected by Olic in the 37th minute.

Marseille did start well, but any hopes they had of making a match were snuffed by Bayern keeper Manuel Neuer. The man who cost Bayern €22million in the off-season when he moved from Schalke, beat Loic Remy, Jeremy Morel and Stephane Mbia in the first 20 minutes. Neur had little to do the rest of the night.

The German international and his mates will likely have more to do in the semifinal, but they now stand one round away from hosting the final in their home turf.