Earlier today when Lionel Messi scored a hat trick against Osasuna to make it nine goals in seven matches so far this season no one was really surprised. Messi has been delivering fabulous performances at such a consistent rate over the past few seasons that he's now almost expected to set the world on fire every week. But it hasn't always been like that. Let's revisit the day where Lionel Messi the young Argentine prodigy billed as a possible heir to Maradona became Lionel Messi the best football player in the world.
The date is March 10, 2007, the venue the Camp Nou. Barcelona hosted Real Madrid in Week 26 of La Liga. After 25 games, Sevilla led the league with 50 points, closely followed by Barcelona with 49. Real Madrid were fourth with 44 points. Both Barcelona and Real Madrid had been eliminated from the Champions League days before (by Liverpool and Bayern Munich respectively) and they were playing a true final in the battle for La Liga (with Sevilla obviously in the mix).
The game was also billed as a personal battle between La Liga's top scorer Rudd Van Nistelrooy and the consensus best player in the world Ronaldinho. No one could quite predict that a certain 19-year-old Argentine would steal the show on that night.
The game couldn't have started worse for Barcelona, with Rudd Van Nistelrooy scoring the opener within five minutes. But a few minutes later, Messi responded with an unstoppable shot to make it 1-1, thus becoming the youngest player ever to score in El Clásico. But he wasn't done yet, far from it. After Van Nistelrooy put Madrid in front from the penalty spot, Messi quickly tied the game again, pouncing on a loose ball to beat Casillas in the half hour mark. But Messi's efforts seemed to be in vain when Oleguer got sent off in the end of the first half.
Playing against 10, Real Madrid dominated the game in the second half and Sergio Ramos scored the third with 17 minutes left on the clock and it looked all over for Barcelona. But legends step up in the big occasions and that was exactly what Messi did.
In stoppage time, the little Argentine latched onto pass by Ronaldinho, dribbled past two defenders and slotted it home to complete a hat trick and salvage a point for Barcelona. People at Camp Nou and football fans all around the world knew that they were watching something special. It was only a matter of time before Messi became the greatest player of his generation. If any doubts remained, they were put to bed the following month, on April 18 when Messi scored "that" goal against Getafe, reminiscent of Maradona's against England.
But the match against Real Madrid was really where it all began, when everyone realized Messi was going to be a legend. Barcelona did end up losing the league in the last day to Real Madrid, but for Messi it was a breakthrough season.
In the end of the year, he came second to AC Milan's Kaka in the Ballon d'Or and since then he has been the undisputed best player in the world and scored 10 more Clásico goals, getting closer and closer to become El Clásico's best ever scorer. He remains the youngest player ever to score in El Clásico and the only one to score a hat trick in the past 15 years.
More than four years later, Messi is widely regarded as this generation's greatest player and some even consider him among the greatest players of all-time at the tender age of 24. It all started on that fateful night at Camp Nou. The legend of Lionel Messi started being written with his hat trick in El Clásico back on March 10 2007. He announced his arrival to the football world and has never looked back since...
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