Lionel Messi dazzled from his debut in 2004 and has been regularly brilliant in 778 games for Barcelona and 151 for Argentina.
AFP Sport picks out seven of his most radiant displays:
April 18, 2007: Barcelona v Getafe
At 19, Lionel Messi was already well established in Frank Rijkaard’s team when he evoked memories of Diego Maradona by dribbling more than half the length of the field to score in the first leg of a Copa del Rey semi-final. Barca were leading Getafe 1-0 at the Camp Nou when, like Maradona against England in 1986, Messi collected the ball facing his own goal, near the right touchline and just inside his own half. Like Maradona, on his way to the ‘Goal of the Century’, Messi set off. He beat six opponents and the goalkeeper before rolling the ball into the net. Barca won 5-2 with two goals and an assist from their No.19, but lost 4-0 in the second leg.
May 17, 2009: Barcelona v Manchester United
Messi had already won a Champions League medal and had faced Cristiano Ronaldo twice when Manchester United eliminated Barcelona in the previous year’s semi-final, when neither starlet scored. Pep Guardiola’s side took revenge in the 2009 final. Samuel Eto’o had already given Barcelona the lead when little Leo added an astonishing second, soaring above two much bigger centre backs, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, to head past Edwin van der Sar.
April 6, 2010: Barcelona v Arsenal
Barcelona were in trouble against Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal when they fell behind at home in their Champions League quarter-final second leg to trail 3-2 on aggregate. As the Londoners continued to attack, Messi ran rampant. Starting with a long-range shot before conjuring two more from nothing and ending with a low shot. He would score five against Bayer Leverkusen in a 7-1 win in 2012, a year in which he racked up 91 goals. But the Arsenal mauling stands out as his most dazzling Barcelona display.
April 27, 2011: Real Madrid v Barcelona
In his first meeting with Real Madid in Europe, Messi turned the Champions League semi-final tie with two goals in the last 15 minutes, with the home side down to 10 men in the first leg at the Bernabeu. The first was a sharp strike at the near post, the second was typical Messi brilliance, picking the ball up near the halfway line and leaving four defenders trailing before sliding a shot into the goal. Barcelona went on to beat Manchester United in the final.
May 6, 2015: Barcelona v Bayern Munich
Facing his former coach Guardiola, Messi broke open a tight Champions League semi-final first leg with a low shot from outside the box in the 77th minute. Two minutes later he put Jerome Boateng on his backside, before chipping another World Cup winner, Manuel Neuer. In added time, Messi set up Neymar for the third. Barcelona beat Juventus in the final.
April 23, 2017: Real Madrid v Barcelona
Bloodied by Real’s Marcelo, Messi still inspired a late fightback as Barcelona won 3-2 at the Bernabeu late in the Liga campaign. Madrid took an early lead but Messi accelerated past two defenders to level. Ivan Rakitic gave Barcelona the lead and Sergio Ramos was sent off for fouling Messi. With five minutes to go Real equalised but, two minutes into added time, Messi scored his 500th Barcelona goal to secure victory. He celebrated by holding his shirt out to the stunned Madrid supporters, his chin raised in a sign of defiance. Barcelona moved into first but later faltered as Real took the title.
July 11, 2021: Brazil v Argentina
Messi has struggled to duplicate club success for his country, reaching one World Cup final and three Copa America finals and losing them all. This summer he finally secured an international trophy and he did it against Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. Angel Di Maria scored the only goal of the Copa America final to allow captain Messi to finally lift a trophy in an Argentine shirt.
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