CAMP NOU, BARCELONA — For 19 minutes Athletic Bilbao believed they could get a result. This was not Barcelona's stadium; it was theirs. They were the home team, both for technical purposes and otherwise.
They had well over half the fans in the ground, and the Basques created an extremely unpleasant atmosphere for Barcelona to play in. Luis Enrique's side could not settle.
Lionel Messi had been given some rough treatment, with Mikel Balenziaga, after 17 minutes, standing up to the Argentinian, following the movements of his feet, not falling for any shimmies or feints. Messi turned and twisted, but Balenziaga followed, eventually seeing an opportunity, hacking the ball away, going in strongly on the Argentinian.
The Basques, of whom 70,000 had traveled to the Catalan capital and at the very least 50,000 got into the game, roared. They had Barcelona on the back foot, and they knew it. They should also have known about Messi.
Clearly riled by his duel with Balenziaga, Messi took the ball on the right wing, barely into the Athletic half, and he set off on a personal mission.
He went past Balenziaga, leaving Benat Etxebarria for dead too, pulled off a nutmeg and raced away from Mikel Rico before swerving Aymeric Laporte and drilling the ball inside the near post.
It could have been revenge for what had happened to him thus far. But more likely, it was Messi doing what comes naturally to him but seems so unnatural and superhuman to us mere spectators.
Luis Enrique didn't understand what had happened, and he had the perfect view of it, watching from the touchline from where Messi set off.
“I still don’t know the full magnitude of the goal, because I was alongside him on the touchline. I’m looking forward to being able to enjoy it on the television," said the coach, per the Guardian.
This is the sort of goal that can't be adequately described by words; you simply have to see it to understand or at least get close to comprehending it.
In the Camp Nou press box, scores of journalists looked at each other in amazement, then strained to see the television replays, of which just four weren't enough.
The fans, without any replays, simply had to recreate what they had seen in their heads, and Athletic and Barcelona fans alike did just that. A previously raucous stadium was swept into a stunned silence.
Messi struck again to all but end the game later on, again thinking and moving quicker than three Athletic defenders to reach Dani Alves' cross and flick the ball home from close range.
But as we know, it's not just Messi's goals that make him football's greatest star. It's his all-round game. Between creating a goal for Neymar that was chalked out for offside and being the brain behind many of Barcelona's attacks, this was a superior, dominant display from the Argentinian—one that no other player on the planet could muster.
It was Messi's goal that saw off Atletico Madrid and won Barcelona the league title, a moment of genius in a crowded box.
His first goal here, which set Barcelona on their way to winning the Copa del Rey, was even better.
Who knows what he is going to produce in the Champions League final in Berlin on June 6.