Correct me if I'm wrong but Barcelona had the top spot in Group G wrapped up before the game against Benfica this evening. The Catalans won four of their five group games leaving no doubt as to their passage to the next round. Tito Vilanova starting XI reflected this. The fans knew this. Lionel Messi and Barcelona's stars knew this and were content to watch a meaningless contest against the Portuguese side from the comfort of the bench.
So why ... why in the name of Sant Jordi did Messi sub into the game in the 58th minute for Rafinha? There is simply no good reason.
Let me step back for a second. This article doesn't get written, there's no debate on this subject if Messi had entered the game, scored (as he's done 84 times in 2012) and walked off the Camp Nou pitch after 90 minutes. So I recognize that second guessing Tito Vilanova is done knowing what happened in the 85th minute and has the millions of Barça supporters worldwide collectively holding their breath.
Messi was released into the Benfica box on a nicely weighted pass. Artur Moraes came out to meet Messi who in the process of dribbling by the Benfica keeper sustained a blow to his lower body from the keeper's outstretched arms. Messi continued his dribble and even attempted to lob the goalie with a left footed shovel shot before collapsing to the ground and grabbing at his left knee in writhing pain.
Messi was carted off the field minutes later to the dismay of the home fans, the Argentine star staring blankly from flat on his back into the Barcelona night sky.
Fox Soccer's Rob Stone mentioned an early report from a Catalan radio station that the injury is a minor one. But substantive reports about the nature and severity of Messi's injury are still coming in. Barcelona's sporting director, Andoni Zubizarreta was quick to make that point immediately after the match.
Still, what benefit would have resulted from Messi's inclusion in this game? I agree with my colleague here at Bleacher Report, Tim Keeny, that "these types of things can happen on any given day" but Messi had no business playing tonight. Please do check out Tim's article for the latest news out of Barcelona.
Manchester United was similarly guaranteed their top group spot and sat 10 of their regulars at home against CFR Cluj.
Messi is one shy of equaling Gerd Muller's 1972 single season goal scoring mark with 26 days left in the year but there are five fixtures left on Barcelona's 2012 fixture list. Surely Messi's chase of the record could have resumed on the weekend when the blaugrana take on Real Betis in a La Liga clash.
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