19 December 2009

Messi seals number six

Lionel Messi struck an extra-time winner as Barcelona fought back from the brink against Estudiantes to win the Club World Cup and complete an incredible year with a sixth piece of silverware

Barca's hopes of adding a maiden Club World Cup crown to their Primera Division, Champions League, Copa del Rey and European and Spanish Super Cup titles looked to have been crushed as Argentinians Estudiantes led heading into the final minutes thanks to Mauro Boselli's 37th-minute header in Abu Dhabi.But Barca substitute Pedro Rodriguez, fresh from his record-breaking goal in the semi-finals against Atlante, drew Barca level in the 89th minute with another header before Messi popped up in the 110th minute to chest home the winner and ensure Pep Guardiola's side of a perfect ending to a fairytale year.Messi's winner could hardly be more fitting, as the Argentina superstar is favourite to be named the FIFA World Player of the Year on Monday night to go with his Ballon d'Or success earlier this month.

Barca needed to do it the hard the way, though, fighting back from a deficit for the second successive game in the Club World Cup.Against Atlante in the semis, Barca found themselves trailing after just four minutes and they almost suffered a similar fate today, Enzo Perez only just failing to get on the end of Juan Sebastian Veron's through-ball in the fifth minute.At the other end a superb back-heel from Zlatan Ibrahimovic put Xavi in the clear, but instead of shooting he opted for a pass inside and it was in front of both Ibrahimovic and Thierry Henry.

That was a wasted opportunity for the Catalan outfit and they would not get any better in the first half, although Xavi looked to have good claims for a penalty turned down in the 33rd minute when he went crashing over a challenge by Estudiantes goalkeeper Damian Albil.Barca's mood would not have been helped four minutes later when they went behind.

A deep cross from the left was perfect for Boselli to get in between Carles Puyol and Eric Abidal and guide a header past Victor Valdes to put Copa Libertadores champions Estudiantes ahead.Barca will have been disappointed with their showing before the break, but they came out with much more intent in the second half and twice came close to equalising in the opening 15 minutes.In the first three minutes after the restart Ibrahimovic fired just wide of the far post after creating a shooting chance on the left of the area, and then Pedro spurned a gilt-edged opportunity.

Henry's cross from the left eluded Albil but Pedro, racing in at the far post, totally missed the ball with an open goal at his mercy. Pedro had become the first player ever to score in six different competitions in the same year after netting the final goal against Atlante, but he was left with his head in his hands after his miss here.The young winger almost made amends in the 69th minute after escaping the attentions of three opponents, but his final shot was stopped by Albil's foot at the expense of a corner.

Pedro would have another chance to go from villain to hero, though, and this time there was no mistake as he drew Barca level just as an equaliser looked set to elude the Catalans.Xavi's attempted pass was deflected up in the air, and Barca centre-back Gerard Pique climbed high to head the ball into the path of the unmarked Pedro, whose looping header over Albil found the back of the net and sparked wild celebrations by the European side.The goal also sent the match to extra-time, when Barca made all the running.

Messi and Ibrahimovic both failed to hit the target with decent openings in the first period, but it would be the former who would end up being the match-winner.Xavi's cross in behind the Estudiantes defence was latched onto by Messi and he dove forward to chest the ball past Albil and ensure yet another trophy would be heading back to the Nou Camp with record-breaking Barca.

Modest Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola was keen to deflect any praise onto his players after the Catalan giants capped a remarkable year by winning the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi.''For me this was a great year. We have achieved something that no-one has achieved before,'' said Guardiola, who was in tears following the final whistle. ''I'm lucky that I have such quality players in my squad.

The success that we've had has been down to them and I'd like to thank them for that.''I also want to remember all the players that were with us last season, because they also form part of this,'' added Guardiola, referring to the likes of Samuel Eto'o, Eidur Gudjohnsen and Sylvinho. ''To win six successive titles is unthinkable. So many things contributed to it; having few injuries, a squad made up of players who play because they like to, mental strength...

''Everyone should be happy and congratulations to the club and everybody associated with Barca. We've had the best year in the history of the club.''Estudiantes coach Alejandro Sabella added: ''The result was fair. We were close to achieving our dream but at the end of the day, we failed. But the players did a perfect job today. We gave it our all.''It would have been great to take the cup home, but this is football and we lost with our heads held high.''

No comments: