Barça looks to Messi to inspire comeback
MADRID - Reuters
AC Milan’s Kevin Constant (R) challenges Barcelona’s Lionel Messi (C) during their Champions League match at San Siro Stadium in Milan, Italy. REUTERS photoLionel Messi has often said personal accolades are secondary to the fortunes of the team and Barcelona’s Argentina forward would probably swap all four of his World Player of the Year awards for a comeback success against AC Milan tonight.
Barça’s hopes of a third Champions League crown in five years are hanging by a thread after Milan surprised the Catalans 2-0 at the San Siro in last month’s round of 16 first leg.
If the pre-tournament favorites are to get past the Serie A side into the quarterfinals, Messi will surely have to be on song.
He and his teammates will also need to reverse a slump in key games after they were beaten twice in five days by archrival Real Madrid following the reverse in Italy.
Messi, well shackled by Milan in the first leg, claimed another record March 9 when he came off the bench and scored for a 17th consecutive La Liga game in a 2-0 victory for the leader at home to bottom side Deportivo La Coruna.
Barça said he had set a new world best by surpassing Polish forward Teodor Pewterek, scorer of 22 goals in 16 straight outings for Ruch Chorzow at the end of the 1930s. Messi has netted 27 on his prolific run.
Some have questioned his form of late but it was his 40th goal of the La Liga campaign and his 51st in 41 appearances in all competitions, including five in the Champions League. He is the top scorer in Europe’s elite club competition the past four seasons.
A significant positive from Barça’s La Liga win against Deportivo was that it kept a clean sheet for the first time in 14 outings and a repeat performance will likely be crucial tonight at the Nou Camp.
Barça also rested a slew of key players to keep them fresh for the Milan showdown.
Assistant coach Jordi Roura, standing in for Tito Vilanova while he undergoes cancer treatment in New York, deployed Messi only for the final half hour.
He gave Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets a runout in the second half but center back Gerard Pique, fullback Jordi Alba and forward Pedro did not feature.
Barcelona has not lost a European tie at home for more than three years and knocked Milan out in last season’s quarterfinals, their 16th meeting, and in the 2005-2006 semifinals.
History is against the host, however, as no team has ever overturned a two-goal first-leg deficit without the benefit of an away goal.