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Ronaldo comes out on top in trial of talent with Messi

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 23 Apr 2008

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It didn't quite turn into the mesmerising display of skills between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi that everyone had anticipated but pundits gave the verdict to the United player.

“It was an impressive performance from him,” commented Portugal coach Luis Felipe Scolari, who was at the game checking on Ronaldo's progress ahead of the forthcoming Euro 2008 finals.

Ronaldo missed an early penalty that would have broken the deadlock between United and hosts Barcelona in their Champions League semi-final, first leg 0-0 draw but otherwise he was by far the brightest of all United's stars.

The statistics told their story as he had four of United's paltry six attempts to get a goal.

Barca's Rafa Marquez quickly let Ronaldo know that he would be sticking to him closely for 90 minutes when he slid into him sideways and took his legs away, sending him into the air, after just 30 seconds.

Barely a minute later, Ronaldo was grimacing again but this time pain was more mental than physical after he chipped his penalty wide following Gabi Milito's handball in the area.

Nevertheless, Ronaldo was the one player among United's illustrious strike force, which included an unfit Wayne Rooney and a lacklustre Carlos Tevez, who lived up to his reputation.

When provided with service, which he was denied for long periods especially in the second half, He was constantly trying to force his way through Barcelona's well-organised defence.

Marquez punished him for his temerity to try to make some progress on several occasions during the first 45 minutes eventually, and belatedly, got a yellow card for clumsily clattering into him just before the break.

The booking means that the Mexican international will be suspended for next Tuesday's second leg and instead it will be Barcelona's shaggy-haired captain Carles Puyol who will be in charge of shackling Ronaldo.

Puyol himself was banned on Wednesday night but was sitting in the stands, constantly sucking on a lollipop, and his thoughtful expression suggested he was taking mental notes on how to unsettle the man who was the visitor's main weapon on Wednesday.

Messi was also in the thick of the action after starting his first game in two months following a thigh injury, creating chances in and around the box as well as down the right wing.

Unlike his Barcelona team mates robust attitude towards Ronaldo, Messi was handled more tenderly by the United defenders – who only fouled him twice – despite embarrassing them frequently.

The most notable occasion came midway through the first half when he flicked the ball over the head of England captain Rio Ferdinand before darting around him.

However, Messi reluctantly left the field after 62 minutes having clearly run out of steam several minutes before his departure, contradicting his statement on Tuesday that he was fit enough to last a whole game.

“Next week, at Old Trafford, he'll be another week fitter and even if he doesn't last 90 minutes, Messi will have an even bigger impact, I'm sure,” said his Barca team mate Xavi Hernandez.

The stage now seems set, especially if United go on to lift the Champions League that they will have the advantage at Old Trafford, for Ronaldo to become a serious candidate to win this year's World Player of the Year award.

Messi, for his part, will be looking to pull off one of his regular magic tricks and help Barca to defy the odds next Tuesday and progress to the final in Moscow on May 21.

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