The saga surrounding Leo Messi’s extraordinary ability took another twist this evening. Yes, believe it or not but God Himself—yes, that’s right, the Almighty—seems to have finally intervened to put the little maestro to the test and see what all the fuss is about.
So with a poor playing surface and little visibility thanks to the divine fog, it was time to see if Messi and Barca could make it three pieces of silverware in little over a fortnight and all before the official season had even kicked off! Surely that would be some kind of record?
Barcelona had cause to celebrate coming into this game. Messi had just been crowned with the inaugural UEFA Best Player in Europe Award for the season 2010/11.
Xavi was some distance behind in second place and a certain Cristiano Ronaldo made it onto the podium in third place, but hey, that doesn't mean much; after all it was Ronaldo, who famously stated after winning the FIFA Ballon d'Or and FIFA World Player of the Year awards all the way back in 2008,"I am the first, the second and the third best player in the world.” Hmmm...
If the preseason tour of the US had not been as positive in terms of results as could have been hoped, the last two weeks have once again made Europe’s elite sit up and take notice that the Barcelona steamroller is not showing any signs of slowing down—the analogy of a fine wine comes to mind. And now with Messi re-focused after the disappointment of the Copa America, Barcelona have picked up just were they left off last season.
Barcelona president Sandro Rossell made a point about the condition of the pitch after the game. “It was not in the best of condition and that affected us because of our style of play, but that’s part of the game and you just have to accept it,” he said.
Surprisingly, Porto started the stronger, pressing Barca up the pitch as the Catalans took a little time to find their rhythm. It was never going to be the truly free-flowing Barca we are so used to seeing on the heavily watered surface of the Nou Camp.
Soon enough though, Barça were working hard to relieve the pressure Porto were applying in midfield and began to steadily enforce themselves on proceedings. A free kick by Hulk and another effort from Moutinho gave Valdes some early work. Pedro, meanwhile, found himself through on goal with no defender in sight. However, his audacious chip sailed over the head of Helton, who was some yards off his line and landing safely on top of the net.
Barça were soon finding more space and with Xavi typically directing the orchestra and both Iniesta and Messi on poach patrol Porto were on the back foot. Villa and Adriano combined down the left, allowing Xavi to fire in a rising shot that Helton just tipped over. Moments later, Barça got the breakthrough—a misplaced back pass sprang Messi into life as he shimmied past Helton to strike home, sending Barça in to the break one up.
The second half began more cautiously with Barça concentrating more play in the Porto half, though it was Porto who produced the best chances early on after the interval, as they broke on the counter attack at every opportunity. Guarin fired in a fierce shot that Valdes did well to stop. David Villa, at the other end, brought a good save out of Helton as both keepers showcased their class.
Fifteen minutes into the second half Guardiola made two quick changes, bringing in new signing Alexis Sanchez for Villa on the left, and Busquets replacing Adriano, pushing Abidal out on the left. As Guardiola shuffled the back line, Porto almost took advantage with some good chances—but Barca were soon back in the ascendancy, regaining control of the game with a number of dangerous counter attacks.
Rolando’s second yellow card for a foul on Messi sent him packing, a dismissal which proved vital as newly introduced Cesc Fabregas—having replaced Pedro—swiftly latched onto a sublime assist from Messi, bringing the ball down on his chest before smashing it into the top of Helton’s goal.
Porto striker Guarin was also given marching orders in the final minutes of the game, leaving Porto with nine men. Soon enough the whistle blew and Barca had claimed yet another trophy, taking their total in all European competition to 15—one more than AC Milan and conveniently three more than bitter rivals Real Madrid.
All in all, it suffice to say that Barca are looking as strong as ever going into the first week of La Liga action. With their closest rivals Madrid busy negotiating the latest media back lash and trying to understand if their manager is staying or going, Barca couldn't possibly be more in the ascendancy.