Tuesday, at Neo GSP Stadium in Nicosia, Cyprus, FC Barcelona defeated hosts APOEL 4-0 with a Lionel Messi hat trick. The three scores placed Messi atop the Champions League all-time scorers’ table with 74, three ahead of previous record holder Raul (71), and four ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo (70), both of Real Madrid.
The game was a forgone conclusion as the hapless Cypriots were no match for the Catalans and were but able to take a couple of shots on goal all game long. Possession was the only indicator needed as Barcelona’s 78% said it all.
Although none of Messi’s goals was outstanding, and certainly not so by his standards, the opening score was a beautiful first goal (27’) for Luis Suarez, whose spin move on his marker, a few yards outside the left corner of the Apoel box, included a nutmeg and a well-placed across the goal shot that nevertheless ricocheted off a defender on the way in.
Messi’s goals were once again the product of much help from his teammates. Today it was the likes of Rafinha (38’) whose shot the Argentine redirected, Dani Alves, whose pass Messi simply flicked between two Apoel players who were late covering him (58’), and the final, a Pedro cross from inside the box, that saw Messi tap in from eight feet out (87’).
What is remarkable is the manner in which the diminutive Argentine keeps breaking records. He simply demolishes them. A hat trick over the weekend to outpace Telmo Zarrra and become the La Liga’s all-time top scorer and now, two days later, another hat trick, to surpass Raul in Champions League scoring, and leave Ronaldo enough goals behind to make it difficult for the Portuguese superstar to keep pace.
Messi seems to have all of the cylinders firing lately and just in time to make his case, over his closest rival for the current year’s Ballon d’Or. It will be interesting to see, once again, whether it will be the player who closes the year out on a high, or the one with the prior many months of more worthy performance, who ultimately wins the trophy.
Copa America 2015
In further news on the Messi-for-football’s-pantheon topic, Argentina was paired up with Uruguay (without the suspended Suarez), Paraguay and Jamaica, by far the easiest group (B) of next summer’s Copa America to be hosted by Chile. The three-group tournament also features in Group A, Chile, Mexico, Ecuador and Bolivia, and in Group C, Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela.
With an eight-team second round it would seem the early guess for a tourney progression would be to make Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and one wild card, the quarter-finalists, with Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Colombia the favorites to move on, and Argentina and Brazil the favorites to meet in the final. This should be one of Messi’s real opportunities to leave an international imprint with his national team. Winning another couple of La Liga titles and/or Champions League titles, winning another Ballon d’Or, or two, and adding a Copa America, would certainly pad his burgeoning resume ahead of a final shot at World Cup greatness in 2018, at age 30/31.