The God's Given Lionel Messi - messilegend

Friday, May 29, 2009

Guardiola Tactical Plan Sinks Manchester United; Messi is the Best Player in the World

ROME: Barcelona did a lot more than beat Manchester United to capture the Champions League alongside their domestic League and Cup double.

The Spanish club swung the pendulum of European power away from the Premier League.

Last season’s final in Moscow between United and Chelsea suggested that the wealth of the English game was threatening to take over.

But Pep Guardiola’s team outplayed United to such an extent at the Stadio Olimpico on Wednesday it was clear that the real quality is a long way from Manchester or London.

“We’re aware we’ve done something magnificent,” Guardiola said after his team’s 2-0 victory after goals by Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi. “We’re approaching mythical terms.”

The 38-year-old Barca coach, who completed a perfect season of three titles at his first attempt, said he believed Messi had proved without doubt he was the best player on the planet.

“Even if we had lost I wouldn’t have changed my opinion about him. Lionel Messi is the best player in the world, absolutely” Guardiola said. “I think right now he is adding his name to the Golden Ball.

“When the going gets tough, he really gets going.”

Guardiola’s tactical plan to switch winger Messi inside also outfoxed United’s defenders.

“I saw last year that Leo Messi had problems with (Man United leftback Patrice) Evra and so I decided to take him out of the right side and put in the middle,” Guardiola said.

“Messi, with Xavi (Hernandez) and (Andres) Inestia, I tried to have one more man in the midfield.”

Messi even came up with a rare header goal to take his Champions League tally to nine – two better than anyone else – and his season total to 38.

“This is the most important victory of my life,” Messi said. “When the second goal came that calmed us down a lot.”

His goals tally put Man United star Cristiano Ronaldo in the shade after his 18 league goals and four in the Champions League and the head-to-head to measure which player is the best was one-sided in this final.

“This is one of the biggest disappointments of my career. We were always confident before the game but unfortunately we couldn’t do it,” Ronaldo said, who said after the game wasn’t sure whether he would be staying at United.

“It is always bad when you lose a final. But we didn’t play well. We did OK in the first 10 minutes but you have to say Barcelona deserved to win.”

Man United manager Alex Ferguson admitted his team was beaten by a better side.

“The disappointment was the use of the ball when we got possession,” Ferguson said. “You have to wait minutes to get it back off them. Could be it was an off night. Could be it was a mountain too big to climb.

“We knew what a good football team they were. We had difficulty in defending against them. Messi dropped into midfield and they kept possession and made it difficult for us.”

The 67-year-old Man United manager, who remains on 25 titles in 23 years at Old Trafford, praised the much younger Guardiola for his achievement for winning three in his first season.

“It is a great achievement as a coach in his first year. Well done. Fantastic,” Ferguson said. “Everybody enjoys their football and it is great credit to him.”

“You have to give credit to a very good Barcelona team. If they get in front of you they are very difficult to beat,” Ferguson said. “They kept possession of the ball and made it very difficult to get back.

“When we did get possession we didn’t do well with it. Credit to them, the better team won.”
— AP


Thursday, May 28, 2009

UEFA Champions League 2009 Winner Is... Barcelona!!!

Barcelona beats Man United 2-0 in final

ROME (AP) - A rare headed goal by Lionel Messi (indeed a very rare header by probably the shortest player on field - even one of the tallest goalkeeper cant touch the ball! What a GOAL!!!) helped Barcelona beat Manchester United 2-0 in the Champions League final on Wednesday, giving the Spanish side its third European Cup title and third trophy in a magical season.

Samuel Eto'o put the Spanish champions ahead in the 10th minute and Messi's 70th-minute goal - his ninth in the Champions League this season - sealed the victory over the defending champions at the Stadio Olimpico.

The triumph completed a sweep of titles for 38-year-old Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola in his first season, after wins in the Spanish league and cup. The former Barcelona star, who started as a ball boy at Camp Nou, now joins the ranks of those who have won the title both as a player and a coach.

Guardiola became the youngest coach to win European soccer's top club competition since the European Cup became the Champions League in 1993. Barcelona also won the trophy in 1992 and 2006.

"No team has ever done the treble in Spain, and we'll be remembered as the first team to do it," Barcelona striker Thierry Henry said. "That's amazing." (For record, Barcelona won the Spanish Cup (Copa del Rey), then the Spanish League, and now the Champions League in 2009! Undisputedly The Team of the Year - Barcelona)

United had been chasing its fourth European Cup title, and fourth trophy this season after winning the Premier League, FIFA Club World Cup and League Cup.

But United was thoroughly outplayed by the Spanish side as Messi scored his 38th goal of an amazing year for Barcelona, which has 53 league and cup goals this season. (FIFA World Player of the Year 2009 - Lionel MESSI)

Xavi floated a diagonal ball into the United area to find Messi unmarked, and the 5-fooot-7 (1.69 m) Argentina striker - renowned for his deft dribbling and shooting - used his head to loop the ball over United goalkeeper Edwin Van der Sar and into the net.

Messi set off colorful celebrations at one end of the stadium, filled with 62,467 fans, and left English fans in silence.

The loss left Man United manager Alex Ferguson at 25 titles in 23 seasons. He failed to match Liverpool's Bob Paisley's three titles in the competition.

"We started the game brightly. We were confident and we could have been in front," Ferguson said. "We had the ball but didn't use it very well. ... We defended fantastically all season but they were two shoddy goals.

"We didn't play as well as we can, but they are a good team. We have to give them credit. Xavi (Hernandez) and (Andres) Iniesta can keep the ball all night. They made it very difficult."

South Korean winger Park Ji-sung became the first Asian to play in a Champions League final. He almost scored for United in the opening minute but his shot was deflected wide after Cristiano Ronaldo's free kick had been blocked by the goalkeeper. It was the nearest United came to scoring all night.

The victory also marked the first Champions League title for Henry, the French striker who was on the losing side when Arsenal lost to Barcelona in 2006.

"Finally, I've been waiting for so long to get this title and now finally today," said Henry, who had been doubtful for the final because of a knee injury. "The last five minutes were the longest of my life."

United almost went ahead in the opening minute when a needless foul by Yaya Toure on Anderson handed Ronaldo an early free kick. His powerful drive was blocked by the hands of goalkeeper Victor Valdes and Park's rebound was deflected for a corner by Gerard Pique.

With Barcelona's dangerous forwards barely getting a touch of the ball in the early stages, there was little danger at the other end until the Spanish champions went ahead with their first attack of the game.

Iniesta started the move with a break through midfield and found Eto'o on the right. The striker cut inside a weak tackle by Nemanja Vidic and poked a low angled shot past Van de Sar.

The goal changed the pattern of the play with Barcelona's stars settling into their confident style of interpassing. United, now chasing the game, was unable to create any real danger. Ronaldo wanted to shoot at every opportunity, but fired wide and headed over.

Seeing his title slipping away, Ferguson reshaped his attack for the second half.

The 67-year-old Scot took off midfielder Anderson and sent on Carlos Tevez, the Argentina striker who is convinced he's leaving the club because United won't turn his loan deal into a full term transfer.

That left United undermanned in midfield and Barcelona continued to create openings.

Ferguson made another change when he took off Park and sent on Dimitar Berbatov.

Barcelona could have added more but Van der Sar saved twice from Carles Puyol and Ronaldo was shown the yellow card for some petulant late challenges on the Barcelona captain.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Barcelona Is Ready To Win With Beautiful Football!

Barcelona attack at full strength vs. Man United
ROME (AP) - Barcelona's formidable attack should be at its best with Thierry Henry and Andres Iniesta likely to return for the Champions League final against Manchester United.

Henry and Iniesta were traveling with the team to Rome on Tuesday, a day after taking part in their first full training session since picking up separate leg injuries earlier this month.

The puzzle is coming together for the Spanish champions in time for Wednesday's match between two of the world's best clubs.

"They are two basic footballing pieces in our scheme," Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez said. "We know they're going to play, that they'll be 100 percent, and to have them is a privilege because with them we're better."

Both players have been key to the offensive juggernaut that has scored 151 goals in collecting two trophies this season.

Iniesta's injury-time goal against a staunch Chelsea side earned Barca its sixth trip to the final; it has won the cup twice. The Spain midfielder, recovering from a thigh injury, abandoned his usual reserved nature when it came to deciphering the final.

"United are the defending champions, one of the best, but they don't scare me. I have the same respect for them as they have for us," Iniesta said. "It's a chance to go down in history. I'd accept winning on penalties."

Based on their training methods, that's something Barcelona is not exactly ready for.

"We haven't practiced them," Xavi said. "I think to do that is ridiculous because you can't emulate the tension of a game in a training session."

Henry has combined with Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto'o to net a league-record 71 goals by a trio. But Iniesta provides an integral midfield piece to rookie coach Josep Guardiola's philosophy: attacking, possession soccer borne out by midfielders Xavi and Iniesta.

The two players are straight out of the mold of Guardiola, a former midfielder who orchestrated Barcelona to 10 major titles from that role, including in the Champions League in 1992.

"This is special for us because we played the best football," Xavi said after the club secured its 19th league title. "I have never seen (a team) play at this level, I have never played in a better team. We have individuals but, above all, we've won as a team. I'm proud."

But the absence of several defenders has left Barcelona's defense exposed against a team that knocked it out at the semifinal stage last year.

With fullbacks Daniel Alves and Eric Abidal suspended and center back Rafael Marquez injured, midfielder Yaya Toure will likely partner with former United player Gerard Pique in the middle as he did against Chelsea, then against Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Cup final. Captain Carles Puyol and 35-year-old Silvinho are likely to fill in on the wings.

With forwards Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez and Dimitar Berbatov to contend with, goalkeeper Victor Valdes again may be called upon to make big saves in pressure moments.

"What I must value is how Rooney, Tevez, (Paul) Scholes, etc., work," Iniesta said. "Rooney played left back against us. To win a final against United you can't make any mistakes."

Ronaldo vs. Messi could decide 'best player' award (But one game doesnt make the difference. Messi has been outstanding throughout the year, from Spanish League to Champions League. Fair enough. Messi is undeniably the best this year!!!)

While Manchester United and Barcelona play for the Champions League trophy, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi may well be squaring off for the right to call himself the world's best player.

Ronaldo, however, doesn't seem too concerned about that.

"Now to decide (who the best player is), who cares about that? What I want more is to win the Champions League and that's it," Ronaldo said Tuesday from the Stadio Olimpico. "I respect Barcelona very much, Messi is special also.

"Sincerely, I'm not worried about that. I would rather win the Champions League final. I want it very much."

Ronaldo is the reigning FIFA world player of the year after his 42 goals last season guided United to both the Premier League and Champions League trophies. Messi was second in the voting, despite Barcelona enduring a second straight season without a trophy.

This season, however, Messi has already collected two trophies and netted more goals than Ronaldo, and the result of Wednesday's final could be the deciding factor when votes are cast for next year's award. (I dont think so.)

"Both are huge, huge players," Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said. "For me, never mind who is going to win the Champions League or who is better - both are marvelous players. For Manchester, Ronaldo is very important, and for us Messi is very important."

United coach Alex Ferguson said picking one over the other was difficult because of their different styles - Ronaldo's speedy stepovers and long-range shooting vs. Messi's darting runs and imagination inside the area.

"Both have the ability and courage to attack defenders all the time. No matter how many times they are tackled they get up and they want the ball, and that's the kind of courage we want to see in footballers. And both have it," Ferguson said. "Both have different types of qualities, both are different types of players but at end of the day, how can you divide it? They're separate."

If Man United defends its European trophy, that will provide a fourth piece of silverware after league, League Cup and Club World Cup triumphs.

Messi can add a Champions League title to Barcelona's league and cup double, and see the Catalans become only the fifth Spanish team to win three trophies in a season.

"Messi will play a good game if we get our tactics right," Guardiola said.

Ronaldo has never scored against Spanish opposition while Messi, who leads the competition with eight goals, has never netted against a Premier League opponent.

Ronaldo said the buildup to the their individual showdown was not proving a distraction.

"I'm 100 percent focused on the game. I know the people want to know something about me but I'm very focused," Ronaldo said. "I try to score a goal and win the game, that's it."


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ferguson Hails Messi As World's Best

Again, Alex Ferguson say something absolutely right. This time its about Messi. The Champions League final is coming up. Cast your vote before the final, probably one of the best football match in history!!!


Ferguson hails world's best duo in Messi, Ronaldo

Sir Alex Ferguson has hailed Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as the world's most gifted players ahead of the Champions League final.

The Manchester United manager believes the two stars' work ethic allied to their natural ability sets them apart from anyone else in world football.

Ferguson, who rates the quality in the Champions League as even higher than in the World Cup, also rates AC Milan's Kaka to an extent "although he has never really taken my breath away".

He told the latest issue of UEFA publication The Technician: "There are some players, such as Kaka, Messi and Ronaldo who are innately gifted.

"But this is not enough, and there is a practice element which becomes very important.

"If you watch Cristiano Ronaldo, he practices after every squad training session, and quite a few others do the same.

"As a coach, we dedicate parts of the training to improving touch, movement, passing and speed of play, but the special quality, the detail, depends on the player being willing to sacrifice himself after training - this is a hallmark of the great players.

"If the big talents only rely on their natural ability, they won't have that extra edge. They must do something extra on their own."

Asked which opposition players he rated highest, Ferguson replied: "When I think of the current generation, Lionel Messi is top level and, although he has never really taken my breath away, Kaka has impressed."

Messi and Ronaldo will come face to face in the Olympic Stadium in Rome, and Ferguson believes the Champions League is hard to beat when it comes to drama - even compared to the World Cup.

The United manager added: "There are many good games at the World Cup, but in general the quality in the big Champions League games is, in my view, higher.

"I think that, overall, the Champions League is hard to beat when it comes to consistency, quality and drama.

"The World Cup, of course, is every four years, and big changes always take place with the departure of many players and coaches and continuity then suffers."

Ferguson also picked out AC Milan's Paolo Maldini as his favourite opposition player during his time as a Champions League coach.

"He has a wonderful presence, competitive spirit, athleticism, and although not the world's greatest technically, he has influenced all the AC Milan teams during his wonderfully successful era - a truly marvelous player," said Ferguson.'s-best-duo-in-Messi,-Ronaldo

Related articles:

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"Our football is better than United's", says Messi as Barca lift title!!!

Lionel Messi last night raised the stakes in the run-up to the Champions League final by claiming that Barcelona had "more football" than Manchester United, and suggesting that if they can lift the European Cup on 27 May they could go down as the greatest team in the club's history.

Messi who, along with four other certain starters for next week's final was rested for yesterday's insignificant away fixture at Mallorca, called on his team-mates to add the Champions League to the Spanish league title and the Spanish Cup and make Barcelona the first side to win the treble in Spain.

"We are going to give everything to win the Champions League. Manchester United have a great team with some great players but I think we just have that little bit more football," he said. "We have to take advantage of this moment because we don't know if it will ever present itself again. We have the chance to pass into the history books of a club as great as Barcelona and we are going to do just that."

The famous dream team of the Nineties won four consecutive league titles and a European Cup under the management of Johan Cruyff. And Frank Rijkaard's side built around Ronaldinho won the league and Champions League double but the treble would put this Barcelona side beyond even those two teams.

Messi said: "The team that won the league and the Champions league in the same season [2006] played some wonderful football and was great to watch but if we win the Champions we will be able to say that it is even better."

Barça's Argentine forward was at home when Real Madrid's defeat to Villarreal on Saturday night confirmed the Catalans as La Liga champions. And with nothing to play for last night against Mallorca he, along with midfielders Xavi, and Yaya Touré and defenders Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique did not even travel to the Balearic island.

Messi is also unlikely to start in next week's home game against Osasuna as he sets his sights on making up for missing out on the 2006 final through injury. He added: "I couldn't really enjoy the last Champions League win because I was injured in the quarter-finals. This time I have played right the way through and to go on and win the final would just make it complete."

Messi should be joined by Thierry Henry in Rome. The Barcelona coach, Pep Guardiola, has admitted to being optimistic that the French striker will win his fitness battle. He said: "There are nine days left and he [Henry] is very upbeat. My hopes are high that he will be able to play the final. He is coming along very well indeed."

While for Barça, all roads now lead to Rome, their eternal rivals Madrid are stuck in La Liga purgatory. After the 3-2 away defeat to Villarreal that ended their title chances, they now have two meaningless games left to play and a coach and playing staff unsure of their future under former Galacticos president Florentino Perez, who is set to return to the post in the club's elections next month.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Barcelona Beats Athletic Bilbao for Record 25th Copa del Rey Title!!!

The first of the three titles for 2009!!!
Barcelona beats Athletic for 25th domestic cup
VALENCIA, Spain (AP) - Barcelona rallied for a 4-1 victory against Athletic Bilbao for its record 25th Copa del Rey title on Wednesday.

Lionel Messi's 57th-minute winner was followed by Bojan Krkic and Xavi Hernandez sealing a deserved win that put the Catalans on course to become the first Spanish club to win three trophies in a season.

Barcelona players lift their coach Pep Guardiola after winning the Spanish Copa del Rey for the 25th time.

Barcelona's first domestic cup triumph since 1998 also snapped a trophy drought since a league-Champions League double in 2006.

Captain Carles Puyol received the trophy from King Juan Carlos before leading his teammates to a handful of laps around Mestalla Stadium, to the applause of both sets of fans.

"It's not a question of having liberated ourselves," coach Pep Guardiola said of the pressure on Barcelona to match its spectacular play with titles.

"We played a good game. It's a great day."

Guardiola also refused to take praise for guiding the club to a trophy in his rookie season.
"The team is on course, on course for something important. It's their football."

Gaizka Toquero headed Athletic in front after nine minutes before Yaya Toure equalized in the 32nd following an individual run from inside the Athletic half.

Barcelona dominated after that with Messi and Krkic scoring within two minutes and Xavi curling a free kick home in the 65th.

Athletic, which reached the final for the first time in 24 years, couldn't keep up with its Catalan rival as Barcelona showed why it is on the verge of winning the league this weekend, and will play Manchester United in the Champions League final on May 27.

"We came here to win but we came up against the best team in the world," Athletic coach Joaquin Caparros said.

Barcelona's defense was without Eric Abidal to suspension and Rafael Marquez to injury so Toure filled in at center back. The Ivory Coast midfielder single-handedly started the rally with an impressive goal where he moved around three opponents before beating Gorka Iraizoz with a stinging low shot from the edge of the area.

"It wasn't my best goal of my career but in terms of significance it was one of the finest," Toure said. "I think we've sent out a message after two years without a trophy."

The momentum turned Barcelona's way from then.

Athletic had managed to suffocate Messi and the Catalans' midfield early, and open through Toquero, who headed Fran Yeste's corner past Jose Manuel Pinto at the far post.

"We knew that the Basques would be physical, that they were very strong," Guardiola said. "Above all we knew that we were going to be facing a very aggressive team so it was important to get the ball out quick, to avoid contact and not let them suffocate us."

Athletic couldn't contain Barcelona, which was without Andres Iniesta and Thierry Henry to injury, with its physical play as Barcelona broke loose after Messi's sixth goal of the cup and 37th in all competitions.

The Argentina winger, playing in his first final for Barcelona, jumped on the rebound from Samuel Eto'o's shot inside the area and controlled to fire past the scrambling defense.

"The difference between Leo and others in these types of games is that these are the types of matches he loves to play," Guardiola said.

Messi then set up Krkic, who was making a rare start, two minutes later to slide a low shot past Iraizoz off the inside of the far post for his fifth cup goal.

Barcelona's Daniel Alves was hit by an object thrown from the Athletic side of the stands in the 60th, then Xavi again rewarded the delirious Barcelona fans who had made the trip down the coast by scoring from a free kick.

Since both clubs represent two of Spain's more autonomous provinces, all 45,000 spectators greeted King Juan Carlos' entrance to jeers, and whistled for the entirety of the Spanish national anthem.

The crowds didn't let up their support thereafter as Barcelona won it's first domestic cup for 11 years.

The match also marked the 25th anniversary of the two teams' last meeting in the competition, a 1-0 Athletic win marred by a mass brawl to close.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Party Time For Barcelona!!!

Barcelona vs Man U - A Dream Final

What a match! Finally, Barca breaks the duck! Unbelievable! Relieved! These are some of the reactions following the match between Barca and Chelsea. This is not the best game for Barca but overall they played well, never give up and in the end, its an exciting football game. You certainly have to give credit to the way Chelsea defended. Both goals in the game are just beautiful. Will Messi proves he's the best footballer in the world in Rome? Lets wait and see...

Barcelona is going to meet Man U in the final in Rome on 27 May 2009. Make sure you are there to witness probably one of the best games in Champions League history!!

My prediction stays the same - The winner between Barca vs Chelsea is going to lift the Champions League 2009 title!

Barcelona 3 - Man U 2


Barcelona-Man United is dream final for strikers

LONDON (AP): Barcelona is out to do much more than just take the Champions League title away from Manchester United when they meet in the final in Rome.

Pep Guardiola's team wants to prove itself the best and most entertaining side in the world.

After United knocked out Arsenal on Tuesday and Barcelona eliminated Chelsea on Wednesday, the two European powerhouses will square off on May 27 in the matchup fans across the continent have looked forward to all season.

While United is trying to hold on to the title it won in Moscow last year, Barcelona is chasing its third title and hoping to end the English Premier League's recent dominance in European football's most prestigious competition.

Both teams also look set to win their domestic leagues, with United three points ahead in the Premier League with a game in hand, and Barcelona seven in front in La Liga.

But the statistics aren't the most important thing in this final.

It is a meeting of perhaps the two most entertaining sides in Europe, both of them with big-name forwards who enjoy taking opponents apart with their imaginative interpassing.

"It's great to be playing against such a top side as Manchester United," Guardiola said after a dramatic 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge put his team through on away goals.

Andres Iniesta equalized in the third minute of injury time after Michael Essien's ninth-minute strike threatened to put Chelsea through.

United manager Alex Ferguson has to decide which of his three main strikers - Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tevez - to leave on the bench, with Cristiano Ronaldo also attacking from the wings.

Guardiola usually sends his trio of strikers - Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto'o - out together, and they have rewarded him with a combined 69 league goals out of a total of 100.

That century was reached on Saturday with a spectacular 6-2 victory at Real Madrid, Barcelona's main rival.

The likelihood of all these attacking stars playing at Rome's Olympic Stadium suggests the game could be one of the best in the 53-year history of the competition.

Behind these forwards are some of the best midfielders, too.

United will be able to field veterans Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, while Barca has Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, two of the stars of Spain's impressive triumph at last year's European Championship.

Barcelona reached its sixth final despite the absence of three defenders on Wednesday through injury or suspension. Defender Eric Abidal was sent off against Chelsea on Wednesday and will be suspended for the final as will Daniel Alves, who picked up a second yellow card in the competition. But Guardiola will have Carles Puyol back after serving a ban.

United meanwhile, has set some impressive defensive records this season. United's center back pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic made huge contributions to goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar going a British record 1,311 minutes without conceding a goal in the league.

Giggs gets the chance to be on the winning side for the third time, having also played in the 1999 and 2008 finals. Scholes was suspended for the '99 victory over Bayern Munich in Barcelona but played in last year's win over Chelsea.

"It's not a nice feeling when you have to sit there and watch the final. Obviously if you're team is in the final, you want to be involved," said Scholes, who has just gone past 600 appearances for the Reds. "It's the biggest game of your life, the European Cup final, everyone wants to be playing and it's desperately disappointing if you can't be."

United midfielder Darren Fletcher will get that experience this time, after being harshly sent off for bringing down Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas in the quarterfinal second leg with his team already coasting at 3-0 up.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Barcelona Whips Real Madrid at Bernabeu, Chelsea Next at Bridge

Barcelona cruises to 6-2 win over Real Madrid

MADRID (AP) - Barcelona couldn't have asked for a bigger confidence booster ahead of its Champions League semifinal at Chelsea than Saturday's 6-2 rout of classic rival Real Madrid.

Barcelona's biggest ever scoring output at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium came a year after the Catalans had to salute Madrid on the very same ground as newly crowned Spanish league champion.

Now, Barcelona holds a seven-point lead on its rival with four games to play after the "clasico" win and is on the verge of snapping a three-year trophyless drought.

"Last season when we played here it was one of the worst days of my life - this has been one of the best," captain Carles Puyol said. "It's historic, a very important game. We're euphoric."
Barcelona was relishing Wednesday's Champions League match at Chelsea, where the teams play after a 0-0 first leg.

It produced total football, as preached and practiced by rookie coach Pep Guardiola.

"It's a glorious night because winning at such an important stadium against a marvelous club like this is very, very big," said Guardiola, a former Barcelona player who played under Johann Cruyff. "We're going (to Chelsea) feeling very good."

Barcelona is rewriting the league record books after reaching 100 goals to sit only seven shy of matching the best mark for a season.

Samuel Eto'o (27 goals), Lionel Messi (23) and Thierry Henry (19) have combined for 69 league goals to become the league's highest scoring trio, surpassing the 66 by Madrid greats Ferenc Puskas (28), Alfredo di Stefano (21) and Luis del Sol (17) during the 1960-61 season.

Barcelona's players certainly celebrated the victory, staying on the field long after the final whistle to enjoy the moment while fans gathered along Barcelona's Las Rambla street to celebrate a big step toward adding silverware for the first time since a Champions League-league double in 2006.

"We dominated most of the match and we leave with a great feeling that we've taken a step that is nearly definite in the league," said Andres Iniesta, who was even applauded by 80,000 fans as he came off in the 86th minute. "Not quite, but almost."

Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez played perfect providers to Messi and Henry up front, with Messi playing in a center forward position to take advantage of Madrid's slower center backs.
Eto'o just stopped short of calling Guardiola's tactical move genius.

"We knew we had to play our game and that's what we did," Messi said. "We were superior."

Madrid coach Juande Ramos said Madrid would have to make major changes if it hoped to compete with Europe's best.

"That's an element that is very clear at this moment. In comparison to the major clubs of Europe, we can't compete on a sporting scale," Ramos said.

Madrid striker Raul Gonzalez said the Spanish champions will try to keep their slight hopes alive.

"Clearly it depends on them. We'll try to finish the best that we can," Raul said. "That's football, they were better.

(But) it's the kind of defeat that hurts."-AP

Friday, May 1, 2009

Nadal Is In Top Form In Rome

"I think it was one of my best matches on clay this year," Nadal said.

Nadal, Federer, Djokovic advance in Rome
ROME (AP) - Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic advanced to the Rome Masters quarterfinals with routine straight-sets wins on Thursday.

Nadal extended his clay-court winning streak to 27 matches _ stretching back to an opening-round loss to Juan Carlos Ferrero here last year - with a 6-1, 6-0 victory over Robin Soderling of Sweden.

Federer avenged last year's quarterfinal loss to Radek Stepanek by beating the 16th-seeded Czech 6-4, 6-1. Djokovic had a surprisingly easy time with 13th-seeded Tommy Robredo, winning 6-1, 6-1.

Also advancing were No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro, No. 8 Fernando Verdasco, No. 12 Fernando Gonzalez, and two qualifiers - Juan Monaco of Argentina and Mischa Zverev of Germany.

Nadal was so dominant against Soderling that the 27th-ranked Swede became frustrated enough to call the ATP supervisor, Mark Darby, onto the court early in the second set over a disputed call. Computer replays showed Soderling's shot was clearly out.

"I think it was one of my best matches on clay this year," Nadal said.

Nadal has won clay-court titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona in the past two weeks and is attempting to become the first player in the Open era to win this tournament four times.

Before his perfect Rome record was ruined by Ferrero last year, Nadal won three consecutive titles at Foro Italico from 2005-07.

Thomas Muster also won three Rome titles in 1990, '95 and '96.

Nadal will next face Verdasco, who eliminated Richard Gasquet of France 7-5, 6-4.

Gasquet was forced to play two matches on Wednesday due to rain earlier in the week. Federer said conditions were a touch slower than when he played Stepanek last year, and he could read his opponent's serve better.

"I told myself I have to be very disciplined in my playing today, the way I play my tactical game against him and just the way I have to focus," Federer said. "Last year I got a little bit unsure about my own game and he played well, and then I was not 100 percent sure of what I wanted to do."

Federer jumped out to a 3-0 lead before being broken when he served for the first set at 5-3. But the newlywed Swiss broke right back when he forced Stepanek to hit a low volley that landed in the net.

Federer cruised in the second set, serving his fifth ace on his first match point. But Federer managed to get only 43 percent of his first serves in, and he will likely have to improve to avoid extending his title drought to eight tournaments.

"I didn't care how high my first serve percentage was, as long as I was winning," Federer said. "But it's definitely something I have to do better in the next match."
Federer will next face the 76th-ranked Zverev, who upset eighth-seeded Gilles Simon 6-4, 6-1.
Djokovic needs to defend his title at this French Open warmup to prevent Andy Murray from taking the No. 3 ranking from him, even though Murray was eliminated by Monaco on Wednesday.

Djokovic began working with Muster's old trainer, Gebhard Phil-Gritsch, last week, and kept his level high from start to finish against Robredo, who has won two clay titles this year.

"I felt quite good," Djokovic said. "I had a day off yesterday, which helped me to recover from the late night second round and just get some more practice."
Djokovic has won his last five matches against Robredo, who leads the ATP Tour with 19 wins on
clay this year.

"It was quite strange because Tommy was making a lot of unforced errors, so he didn't put a lot of pressure on me," Djokovic said.

Del Potro defeated last year's runner-up, No. 10 Stanislas Wawrinka, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-3.
Monaco produced another upset by beating 15th-seeded Marin Cilic 6-4, 6-4, improving to 14-6 on clay this year, including a runner-up result in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in February. He will next face Gonzalez, who rallied to beat net-charging Jurgen Melzer of Austria 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.

Gonzalez was the runner-up in Rome two years ago and is 10-1 on clay this season.

Melzer won 40 of 65 points at the net but dropped his serve late in the third set when Gonzalez hit a backhand return winner up the line.

Gonzalez snapped his racket in half early in the match when he was struggling to counter Melzer's attacking game.-AP