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Rediff.com  » Sports » Football Briefs: 'There is no one like Messi in the world'

Football Briefs: 'There is no one like Messi in the world'

Last updated on: March 05, 2018 16:27 IST

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Lionel Messi scores the goal for Barcelona on Sunday

IMAGE: Lionel Messi scores the goal for Barcelona. Photograph: Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone said the brilliance of Lionel Messi was the only real difference between his side and Barcelona after the irrepressible Argentine's sublime free kick goal decided Sunday's top-of-the-table La Liga showdown.

 

Messi's stinging set-piece strike in the 26th minute gave Barca a 1-0 win in a tight game of few chances, lifting the Catalans eight points ahead of Atletico at the top with 11 games remaining.

"If we took the Barcelona shirt off Messi and gave him an Atletico one I'm sure we'd have won 1-0," Simeone told a news conference.

"He plays like he is playing on the streets."

Barca manager Ernesto Valverde also paid tribute to Messi, who scored his 600th career goal and netted a free kick for the third consecutive game.

"There's no-one like him in the world. I don't know what would have happened if he played for Atletico, I don't want to even imagine it," Valverde said.

"When you are on the other side you always think Messi is going to score, your sense of fear is far stronger when he is your rival. When he is on your side, you are always hopeful," added Valverde, who suffered repeatedly against Messi while in charge of Athletic Bilbao.

Atletico could have reduced the gap behind Barca to two points with victory at the Nou Camp yet they did not manage a single shot on target throughout the 90 minutes and were particularly unimaginative in the first half.

They improved after the break when Simeone threw on forwards Kevin Gameiro and Angel Correa but the coach denied his tactics were to blame for the defeat.

"The game is 90 minutes and there's always stages when you don't play well. There were very few chances in the game and while we didn't attack in the first half, in the second we were closer to being the team we truly are," Simeone said.

The Argentine admitted it was difficult to imagine Barca throwing away their eight-point lead at the top and Valverde said it was a significant win for Barca.

"It was a very important game because being eight points ahead is not the same as two," Valverde added.

"It's obviously not definitive but we have taken a step towards it. We'll see what the future holds."

Spanish clubs not coming to India in near future: La Liga India head

India is not in La Liga's immediate scheme of things as far Spanish clubs playing pre-season or exhibition matches in the near future are concerned, the league's country head Jose Cachaza said, contrary to the speculations doing the rounds.

Cachaza was not affirmative when asked about La Liga's plans of holding exhibition of pre-season matches in India in future.

"Playing matches in India in future, definitely yes, but I cannot give a date, cannot promise that the upcoming pre-season will be here," Cachaza told.

He though called India a strategic country for La Liga, one of the world's top football leagues that has the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez in its ranks.

"As far as La Liga's promotional activities are concerned, you can compare India with China because (like India) we have office in China, but not with countries like Australia as they are not our strategic partners," he said.

Australia though hosted Spanish clubs such as Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in exhibition matches in recent times.

"We had 300, 000 followers two years back and now we are close to two million fans on Facebook. This shows Indian fans have an eye on La Liga," he added.

On a promotional tour of India, former Spain and Valencia midfielder Gaizka Mendieta said more matches on the lines of last year's El Clasico, which was scheduled at a time suitable for Indian audience, could be held held in coming times.

Talking about the increasing popularity of La Liga among Indian fans, Mendieta said: "Like we had the Clasico last year starting at a time suiting Indian viewers (5.30pm IST), there may be such matches again in the future because the Indian market matters."

"Already, La Liga has reached a following of over 37 million across the globe. It is really very important to connect to Indian fans. The fan base of La Liga in India is growing."

Barca's Busquets takes aim at Liga organisers

Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets hit out at La Liga's schedulers after his side beat Atletico Madrid 1-0 on Sunday in a top-of-the-table clash less than 72 hours after playing away in the Canary Islands.

Lionel Messi scored from a free kick to decide the game and take the Catalans eight points clear of Atletico at the top of the standings, although the Liga leaders were pushed all the way by Diego Simeone's side in a game of few chances which did not live up to the hype.

Atletico were given one day's rest more than Barca leading up to the game, with Ernesto Valverde's side facing a three-and-a-half hour flight back from Las Palmas on Thursday after their 1-1 draw, while Simeone's side had played at home to Leganes the previous day.

"We got back to Barcelona and we had to train without resting. If La Liga wants to be considered the best league in the world, they need to do certain things better," Busquets told reporters.

"It's not an excuse; it's the reality. When we lose, I don't like to complain but we've won today so I'm going to take advantage of the fact (to voice an opinion)."

Barca left back Jordi Alba was suspended against Las Palmas but joined Busquets in complaining about his side's lack of rest before the crucial game against their nearest challengers for the title.

"They need to fix the calendar," Alba said. "I was feeling very tired and I didn't even play in Las Palmas, so imagine what it was like for those who got home at four in the morning on Friday. They need to sort out these little details."

Barca captain Andres Iniesta started both games and was forced off towards the end of the first half against Atletico with a hamstring injury.

The veteran midfielder will undergo tests on Monday although reports in the Spanish media said he would be out for around three weeks, ruling him out of the Champions League last-16 second leg against Chelsea on March 14.

"Iniesta is a unique player, a little like Messi, so it's difficult to find a player who can replace him," Barca coach Valverde said of his captain.

"We'll wait and see how bad the injury is. He carried on playing at first so we thought it wasn't too bad but we're not sure. He was playing incredibly well."

Bayern win again, evergreen strikers on target in Bundesliga

Runaway Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich won 4-0 at Freiburg on Sunday and veteran strikers Claudio Pizarro and Mario Gomez scored to boost their chances of World Cup recalls.

Bayern, chasing a sixth successive title, opened up a 20-point lead over Schalke 04 with nine games to go.

Peruvian forward Pizarro became the fourth oldest player to net in the Bundesliga when he gave Cologne an early lead at home to VfB Stuttgart before Germany's Gomez replied with a brace to lead the visitors to a 3-2 win.

Pizarro, 39, put bottom-of-the-table Cologne ahead after seven minutes and has now scored at least one Bundesliga goal in each of the last 20 years.

Cologne dominated, threatened a second but were floored when Gomez, 32, scored twice in three minutes before halftime.

Andreas Beck added a third for Stuttgart in the second half before a Milos Jojic free kick gave the Billy Goats a glimmer of hope five minutes from time but it was not enough.

Pizarro has never taken part at a World Cup as Peru have not qualified since 1982 and he last played for his country in March 2016, but coach Ricardo Gareca has not entirely ruled out the forward.

Gomez missed the last World Cup after an injury-plagued season but is hoping to convince Germany coach Joachim Loew to take him to Russia.

Cologne have 17 points, eight adrift of safety, while Stuttgart climbed to ninth with 33.

Bayern were gifted the lead at Freiburg by an Alexander Schwolow own goal in the 25th minute and Corentin Tolisso added another three minutes later.

Sandro Wagner and Thomas Mueller completed the rout in the second half.

Marseille grab last-gasp equaliser to draw with Nantes

Olympique Marseille snatched an equaliser five minutes into stoppage-time to draw 1-1 at home to Nantes in Ligue 1 on Sunday and avoid a fourth consecutive defeat in all competitions.

Florian Thauvin bundled the ball into the net in a goalmouth melee following a corner after Nantes had taken the lead early in the first half through Leo Dubois, who beat Steve Mandanda with a right-foot shot from Valentin Rongier’s cut-back.

Nantes defender Nicolas Pallois was sent off after a second booking for dissent immediately after the equaliser for protesting that he had been fouled by Marseille’s Luis Gustavo.

Marseille, who enjoyed more possession but squandered a string of chances, notably three by France international Dimitri Payet, remained third in the standings on 56 points from 28 matches.

They are four points behind second-placed Monaco and 18 adrift of leaders Paris St Germain, who won 2-0 at Troyes on Saturday.

Fourth-placed Olympique Lyonnais were also held to a 1-1 draw at Montpellier and remained five points behind Marseille in the race for Champions League berths.

Lyon have gone six league matches without a win since their 2-1 victory over PSG in January.

On a pitch at La Mosson in a sorry state because of heavy rain that made good football difficult, Isaac Mbenza opened the scoring for Montpellier in the seventh minute and striker Mariano Diaz equalised in the 58th. 

 

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