Golden Goal Part 13: Lionel Messi

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RYAN PLANT studies Lionel Messi’s individual effort against Getafe, one that ensured further comparisons with compatriot Diego Maradona.

The first glimpse of a legend in the making. A goal that had commentators from all corners of the world screaming and shouting, leaving them breathless in and awe of what they had just witnessed. A finish that caused pandemonium on newly-formed social media channels, one that left both expert pundits and fanatical supporters lost for words.

Barcelona’s then Argentine wonderkid, Lionel Messi, produced a moment of amazing beauty against Getafe in 2007 that almost second-by-second, touch-by-touch, mirrored Diego Maradona’s famed solo effort against England at the 1986 World Cup.

Both Messi and Maradona, two of the most emblematic number 10s in football history, traced almost exactly the same course with the ball at their feet past helpless defenders across two of the most coveted football fields – Maradona at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca, and Messi at the Camp Nou.

Both of them dribbled with the ball for around ten seconds and they both travelled for around 60 metres, with 13 touches of the ball, to beat five hapless defenders on their way to rounding the respective goalkeepers to finish. “Messi scores Maradona’s goal” was even seen adorning the headlines the following day.

Whereas Maradona’s awe-inspiring moment of brilliance came in a World Cup quarter-final between two famous enemies, Messi’s now famous goal came in the semi-final of the Copa del Rey on 18 April, 2007, whilst the current Barca number 10 was a youth prospect in the shadow of Ronaldinho, waiting for the famous shirt to become his.

Maradona had also already announced himself on the world stage. Five minutes before the so-called “Goal of the Century”, he handled the ball into the net past Peter Shilton with the “Hand of God”. In the years previous he had been the subject of a world-record transfer to Barcelona before joining a flagging Napoli team that he had begun to inspire to the club’s most successful period in its colourful history.

Messi however, despite his fame around the world for being one for the future, was yet to consistently show his potential. His short, stocky frame coupled with a series of niggling injuries had left him struggling for a place in then-manager Frank Rijkaard’s starting side. His goal against Getafe, as well as a hat-trick – which included a last-minute equaliser – in a 3-3 draw against Real Madrid had the Blaugrana faithful believing he was Ronaldinho’s in-house replacement.

By watching the bemused faces on the Getafe defenders as a daring 19-year-old danced past them, it is easy to see why. After collecting the ball around the halfway line, Messi’s quick feet took him away from Javier Paredes and Ignacio Nacho. Having had seemingly nowhere to go, Messi had controlled the ball, spun out of a challenge and nutmegged Nacho to break free and dart towards the Getafe goal.

The embarrassed Nacho was still tracking his man; out of sheer desperation, he tried to push Messi to the ground to no avail. Messi cut in from the right and drove past Alexis, before straightening his run to move free of David Belenguer’s challenge in an amazing turn through 90 degrees without breaking his stride.

Goalkeeper Luis Garcia charged out of his goal to meet him, but a drop of the shoulder and turn left him tackling thin air as Messi dribbled past him to score into an empty net. Pablo Redondo tried in vain to cover his ‘keeper and block the shot.

Messi in celebration dedicated his goal to Maradona, who at the time was in intensive care during his long battle with alcoholism. Most of his teammates ran to him with disbelief on their faces as a sense of incredulousness swept around the Camp Nou; striker Eidur Gudjohnsen stood in amazement with his hands in the air.

“I hope Maradona can forgive me, but I think Messi’s goal is even better,” said Barcelona’s sporting director, Txiki Begiristain. Midfielder Deco hailed Messi, and said: “It was the best goal I have seen in my life.”

However, one regularly forgotten fact surrounding Messi’s famous goal is that it became futile soon after; his genius helped Barca to a 5-2 first-leg victory, but they amazingly lost 4-0 in the return tie to crash out of the tournament. Getafe went on to lose 1-0 in the final to Sevilla.

It is fair to say, though, that Messi has enjoyed the lion’s share of success since.

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