In the past year, one name has dominated the soccer world more than any other: that of a 22-year-old, 5’7” Argentinean attacking midfielder named Lionel Messi.
Messi made his first start for Barcelona at the age of just 17 against Catalan rivals Espanyol. Since then, he has scored some spectacular goals and transformed himself into the greatest soccer player of his generation.
Many draw a connection between Messi and the man many consider to be the greatest of all time, Diego Armando Maradona. Both short, both Argentineans, both played for Barcelona and both have very similar styles of play. In fact, Messi has imitated both of Maradona’s famous goals against England in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal: “The Hand of God” and “The Goal of the Century.”
However, Messi has shown even more promise at such a young age, scoring more goals than Maradona had at this point in his career and winning more individual honors. The only thing that still puts Maradona ahead of Messi is his triumphs with the national team.
Messi plays like a shadow of himself when he’s with Argentina, but Maradona always shone when wearing the blue and white. Ironically, some have blamed Maradona for Messi’s poor form with Argentina, as he is the current coach. Either way, if Messi wants to be named as one of the all-time greats, he will have to shine at the World Cup this summer. All eyes are on him.
Last week, Messi played like never before, sinking four amazing goals against Arsenal to advance Barcelona to the semi-finals against Inter Milan. Inter struggled against CSKA Moscow, but managed to beat them 1-0 in Milan and 1-0 in Russia.
The other big news in the quarterfinals was Bayern Munich’s upset over Manchester United. Although it’s not as much of an upset as Kansas’ loss to Northern Iowa, it’s still newsworthy.
Munich shocked Man U by beating them 2-1 at home. However, United fans were optimistic that the former champions would make a comeback when Wayne Rooney was given the green light to start in the second leg. United put themselves up 3-0 in the 41st minute and the game seemed over, but out of nowhere Munich struck back with two goals and sunk United with an away goal advantage (in two-legged games, if the teams are tied on aggregate, the team with the most goals scored away from home moves on). Munich moves on to face Olympique Lyonnaise, who defeated Bordeaux 3-2 on aggregate.
Lyon would be the first French team to win the Champions League in 17 years and Munich would be the first German team in 10. Of the four teams, Lyon is the only one to have never won the title, but it’s been nearly half a century since Inter’s last victory in 1965. Barcelona would also be the first team to win back to back titles since the tournament changed names to the “Champions League” in 1992 and allowed more entrants.
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