Lionel Messi

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL PREVIEW: Barcelona

A JUVENTUS defense that has only conceded 24 goals this season will not be easy to break down, but a certain three men that have scored 120 between them will feel confident that at least one can find the back of the net on Saturday.

Lionel Messi (43), Luis Suarez (16) and Neymar (22) have scored 81 of Barcelona’s 110 league goals this season. To put that in some sort of context, the entire Juventus squad scored 70 goals this season, Chelsea scored 73 and Bayern Munich scored 80. Juventus (Italy), Chelsea (England) and Bayern (Germany) all won their respective leagues.

Despite the lethal form of “MSN” in front of goal, Barcelona did not finish as the top scorers in La Liga, as Real Madrid netted 118 times, but a reinvented Barca did concede the least amount in Spain (21), and only Bayern let in less in Europe’s top five leagues (18).

Tiki-Taka is not quite Tiki-Toast at Camp Nou, but, under Luis Enrique, Barcelona are certainly more dynamic.

Ivan Rakitic is one of the most notable men who spearheaded this change, with the Croatian play-maker being that bit more aggressive than the tippy-tappy Xavi and Andres Iniesta, with the former being dropped for Rakitic.

Iniesta, arguably the finest midfielder of his generation, has seen his role in the Barcelona fold somewhat decrease in value under the new style, contributing just one goal and five assists in La Liga and the Champions League combined compared to Rakitic’s eight assists and six goals in the two elite competitions. Rakitic also created 42 chances compared to Iniesta’s 32.

Ivan Rakitic: Modern Barcelona personified (Picture via theguardian.com)

Ivan Rakitic: Modern Barcelona personified (Picture via theguardian.com)

In comparison, the strike force has gone the opposite way to the midfield with the hard working Alexis Sanchez (sold to Arsenal for £35 million), and Pedro (benched) being replaced by the aforementioned Suarez and Neymar who are more intent on scoring, scoring…and scoring a bit more, as opposed to winning the ball back and setting up the micro magician Messi.

The Catalan kings are keen to return to the throne of being Europe’s finest once again having not won the Champions League since 2011 where they defeated Manchester United 3-1 at Wembley Stadium.

They have already snatched back their domestic crown after having briefly lost it to Atletico Madrid for a year and Saturday’s final in Berlin will see either Barca or Juve win the treble with Barcelona also winning this season’s Copa del Rey with a 3-1 win over Athletic Club and Juventus overcame Lazio 2-1 in the Coppa Italia.

If Barcelona are to win their first treble since 2009, the rebranded team are going to have to find a way past a very organised Juventus side, but very few have managed to stop Messi, Suarez and Neymar.

 

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PREVIEW: Real Madrid vs Barcelona (Saturday 5pm BST)

Real Madrid welcome old foes Barcelona to Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday evening but will have to play the side who have still not conceded a league goal this season, without Gareth Bale.

The world’s most expensive player will miss the crunch match due to the same muscle injury that saw him sit out Madrid’s 0-3 midweek mauling of Liverpool in the Champions League.

Welsh wizard Bale was also an unused substitute in Real’s last league match at Levante in which the visitors cruised to a 0-5 win.

Carlo Ancelotti has confirmed however that Sergio Ramos will be fit for tomorrow’s derby.

Barcelona meanwhile will be without Thomas Vermaelen, Adriano and Sergio Busquets.

Luis Suarez is expected to feature in his first competitive game for Barca with this weekend marking his long awaited end to a four month ban that started in June for biting Giorgio Chiellini in Uruguay’s World Cup clash against Italy.

His new side did the double over Madrid last season, winning 2-1 at the Nou Camp and overcoming them again at Santiago Bernabeu in a ding dong battle that saw the away side return home with a 3-4 win.

It was a game in which Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick, two of which were penalties while his Ballon d’Or rival Ronaldo scored only once.

La Liga’s Catalan giants have kept clean sheets in all of their eight games this campaign, scoring 22 and only dropping points once so far (a 0-0 draw in Malaga).

Madrid haven’t been shy in front of goal though, notching 25 goals in their eight matches with Cristiano Ronaldo providing 14 of them.

However they already find themselves off the pace in the La Liga title race, having lost two games this season to Atletico Madrid and Real Sociedad.

They are four points behind league leaders Barcelona but Saturday gives them the perfect opportunity to close the gap to just one.

Germany 1-0 Argentina (AET): Gotze goal wins the World Cup for Germany

Germany became the first European team to win the World Cup on South American soil with a 1-0 win over Argentina in the Maracana. A late Mario Gotze goal deep into extra time ended 24 years of hurt.

A deft touch from 22-year-old Gotze settled the final when he chested down substitute Andre Schurrle’s cross before dinking the ball past Golden Glove nominee Sergio Romero in the 113th minute.

Argentina had chances of their own in normal time and thought they had taken the lead on the half hour when Gonzalo Higuain turned in Ezequiel Lavezzi’s cross but the Napoli striker was denied by the linesman’s flag.

Higuain should have put the Argentines infront nine minutes earlier but spooned a volley horribly wide after a poor back header from Toni Kroos.

Rodrigo Palacio had an even better opportunity seven minutes into the first period of extra time but could only direct his lob wide of Manuel Neuer’s post after Mats Hummels missed Marcos Rojo’s cross field pass.

Die Mannschaft were not far way themselves in the first half when Schurrle’s snapshot was wonderfully saved by Romero after Thomas Muller’s pull back from the left. Romero’s save even more impressive as a German forward was blocking his way.

They came closest when Benedikt Howedes’ header rattled the post following Kroos’ corner. The ball landed at the feet of Muller who was ruled offside but Romero was there to smother anyway.

Golden Gotze Goal: Mario Gotze wins the World Cup for Germany.

Golden Gotze Goal: Mario Gotze wins the World Cup for Germany.

Lionel Messi failed to reach his best yet again and will rue his best shooting chance that arrived two minutes into the second half – dragging a shot wide after being played in by Lucas Biglia.

Kroos could have won the game for Germany in normal time but hit a wasteful shot wide after being set up by Schurrle.

Schurrle himself had the chance to win the final for Joachim Loew’s side, his stinging shot one minute into the extra time period was straight at Romero however.

The game did have its ugly stages though, first Neuer clattered HIguain in a 50-50 challenge that almost resembled Harald Schumacher and Patrick Battiston’s clash in 1982 and left Higuain out cold for a short period. The Argentine was penalised.

Sergio Aguero was perhaps lucky to stay on the pitch himself after being involved in a nasty collision with Bastian Schweinsteiger that left the Bayern Munich midfielder bleeding.

It is Germany who are world champions though for the first time since 1990 – where they beat Argentina in the final.

 

 

Nigeria 2-3 Argentina: Messi provides magic as Argentina march on

Two goals from Lionel Messi sent Argentina through from Group F as winners while opponents Nigeria will join them in the next round.

Messi’s second, his 24th goal in his last 23 games for his country, was a sublime swerving free-kick in first half stoppage time that left Vincent Enyeama with no chance. The Lille Goalkeeper just left to admire it like the rest of us.

Argentina’s star opened the scoring after just three minutes when he smashed home Angel di Maria’s rebounded effort following an ingenious through ball by Javier Mascherano.

The winner came from a more unlikely source though when Marcos Rojo bundled in a corner off his knee, not knowing much about it, but they all count.

Man of the match Messi was substituted in the second half as a precaution for the latter stages of his tournament, his two goals being a nice belated present for the man who turned 27 yesterday.

Ahmed Musa had an equally impressive game for the Super Eagles with a brace of his own.

His first, a curled effort from a relatively tight angle on the left hand side of the box that was beyond Sergio Romero and nestled in the corner for 1-1, seconds after Messi’s opener.

Musa tied the scoring again in the second half, again shortly after Messi had given Argentina the lead, two minutes after this time. Musa muscled his way through several challenges before cooly finishing past Romero for 2-2.

It was La Albiceleste who picked up the three points though but Nigeria are also through to the last 16 as Bosnia defeated Iran 3-1 in Salvador.

Sergio Aguero limped off in the opening period however and Argentina will be hoping his tournament is not over.

 

Argentina 2-1 Bosnia & Herzegovina

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A magical moment from Lionel Messi was the high point of an otherwise average encounter that saw Argentina run out 2-1 winners in Bosnia & Herzegovina’s maiden World Cup match.

The game itself was not as exciting as many had expected but the 65th minute saw the moment the footballing world had been waiting for. Lionel Messi picked up the ball twenty yards from goal and jinked past several defenders and then delicately curled the ball out of the reach of despairing Asmir Begovic.

It was a goal worthy of gracing the stage that is the Maracana, made even sweeter by the fact that Messi had been largely uninspiring before his moment.

Bosnia’s first World Cup could not have got off to a worst start though. After just three minutes Messi’s free-kick was inadvertently turned in by Sead Kolasinac as he tried to clear but the ball deflected off the wrong part of his leg and into the net.

In a half with very little goalmouth action, Javier Mascherano came closest for Argentina with a speculative shot that Begovic dealt with easily.

Senad Lulic provided Bosnia’s best chance when his powerful header from Martin Pjanic’s corner was saved well by Sergio Romero.

Izet Hajrovic did his level best to equalize at 1-1 for the Bosnians but he could only shoot straight at Romero twice, first from a free-kick and then from twenty yards out.

They did however score their first ever World Cup goal when Lulic played an itelligent pass to Vedad Ibisevic who nutmegged Romero to claim the historic honour with five minutes to play.

The Golden Lillies just couldn’t find a leveler though and Argentina held on to claim their first three points.