Poised at 0-0 in the latter stages of the semi-final at the Bernabeu, standing at 5ft 7, the little Argentine Lionel Messi up to then - apart from a few brief pieces of magic - had been effectively marked. Marking him was a task performed admirably by the omnipresent former Portsmouth midfielder Lassana Diarra with assistance from Real’s other employed deep midfielders Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso.
Then the turning point… 61 minutes into the game, A high tackle by centre-back Pepe earned the Portuguese what looked quite a harsh red card and Jose Mourinho followed with similar punishment. The game which frequently looked to be heading out of hand reached boiling point with Mourinho’s insistence that Pepe should not have been sent off resulting in the manager taking a seat in the stand - albeit through the creation of a new seat in the front row. ‘The Special One’, who had stoked the fire in the build up to the match with his comments to the press regarding the successes of his counterpart Pep Guardiola, had a right to be furious but his behaviour afterwards must surely have been in breach of UEFA’s behaviour code. Mourinho who has already been banned for the yellow cards controversy earlier in the season, (Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos both given 2nd yellow cards for time-wasting to be suspended for an irrelevant game) has been charged by UEFA and if found guilty may receive a ban of a couple of matches.
Pepe’s dismissal led to a change in Real Madrid’s formation, finally creating space for Messi to roam. Although a goalless draw represented a good result for an away leg of a champions league semi-final- against ten men was a different story. Barca now required someone to inspire and prevent the prospect of a very cagey encounter next week at home in the Nou Camp.
Step forward, Lionel Messi. A great run down the right flank and cross by substitute Ibrahim Afellay picked out Messi and a player with an incredible 50 goals to his name already this season was not going to miss.
The first goal was simple but there was nothing straightforward about his second. In the 87th minute, the two time Ballon d’Or winner picked up the ball around 30 yards out,skated past various challenges from Real Madrid defenders before neatly slotting the ball past Iker Casillas. In doing so Messi has taken his goal tally for the season up to 52 goals, ten more than scored by Ronaldo.
Cesar Rodriguez (1942-55) currently holds the record for most goals at 195 for Barcelona in all competitions but Messi is not far behind in third place with 119 goals. However at his current rate of goalscoring, surely it is only a matter of time before Messi breaks the long standing record.