Reuters Soccer Blog
World Soccer views and news
Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo has not not been shy in trumpeting his intention to win back the FIFA World Player of the Year award, but current holder Lionel Messi appears to have other ideas.
The monstrously-gifted Argentine has consistently stolen the limelight from the most expensive player in football history with a string of sublime performances for Barcelona in the first half of the season.
Ronaldo has not scored in three matches since Real’s 6-0 demolition of Zaragoza in mid-December, while Messi has netted five in his last two to go joint top of the La Liga scoring chart on 14, double Ronaldo’s tally.
The 22-year-old Messi, who was instrumental in Barca’s unprecedented haul of six trophies in 2009, netted his 100th and 101st goals for Barca against Sevilla on Saturday in his 188th appearance.
Spain’s much-maligned King’s Cup struggles to make an impression these days with La Liga and the Champions League squeezing it into a distant third in terms of prestige and matches poorly attended.
But this week’s Cup action served up a veritable feast of drama that more than matched what is generally served up in the other two competitions.
Lionel Messi hogged most of the headlines thanks to his wonderful hat-trick at Tenerife, but it was the performances of a pair of teenagers who had pundits, coaches and team mates purring following the weekend’s La Liga action.
Barcelona’s Spanish forward Bojan Krkic has been around for a while –- he made his first-team debut in a friendly in Egypt in 2007 -– but all three of Messi’s goals came from passes supplied by the 19-year-old and coach Pep Guardiola was effusive in his praise.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s match-winning performance against Olympique Marseille on Tuesday has helped defuse the fierce criticism he attracted for his irresponsible sending off against Almeria at the weekend.
The Portuguese forward, a world record signing for the La Liga club in the close season, apologised for the two yellow cards he picked up — one for ripping off his shirt to celebrate a goal (which had the effect of showing off his bulging muscles to the cameras) and the second for recklessly kicking an opponent.
A Barcelona-Real Madrid game that veered from the brilliant to the banal, as is pretty much always the case in these contests, was settled 1-0 in favour of the Catalans by a great finish from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, following an even better pass from Dani Alves.
Real will go back to the capital content with their performance in all areas … apart from in front of goal. They will rue missing six or seven good chances to get something from a game that was pretty even, although that was partly to do with the sending-off of Busquets for a daft handball.
Real Madrid and coach Manuel Pellegrini were on the business end of some damning newspaper headlines on Wednesday after their humiliating exit from the King’s Cup at the hands of third-tier Alcorcon.
In the build-up to the match, Kaka suggested pride and the club’s history would inspire the players to a dramatic comeback from the 4-0 away defeat in the first leg.
Gonzalo Higuain reminded Manuel Pellegrini of his worth at the weekend, scoring both goals for 10-man Real Madrid in their 2-0 victory over Getafe.
The Argentine youngster was Real’s top scorer with 22 league goals last season, but was making only his third start in nine league games on Saturday.
One swallow does not make a summer, but Sevilla’s bristling 2-1 victory over Real Madrid on Sunday offers hope that the answer to the question posed in Thursday’s blog is ‘no’.
Three teams can challenge for the La Liga title this year.
Manolo Jimenez’s side inflicted a first defeat on Real with a vibrant, attacking display that was reminiscent of their performances under Juande Ramos when they won back-to-back UEFA Cups.
A few days ago, Real Zaragoza president Eduardo Bandres said: “The Spanish league will be a matter totally and absolutely between two teams, among other things because the system for distributing television rights determines that it will be this way. It is unique in Europe and because of this the Spanish league is one of the most boring in Europe.”
The television channels would beg to differ, as they regularly run adverts or open their coverage of matches from La Liga claiming it is the ‘best league in the world’ with clips of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lionel Messi running in the background.
Spain’s qualification for next year’s World Cup finals in South Africa has brought a welcome distraction to a nation suffering more than most of its European peers from the economic crisis.
Wednesday’s 3-0 win over Estonia put the European champions through as Group Five winners and Vicente del Bosque’s highly-fancied side will be competing in their ninth straight finals since 1978 and attempting to win the World Cup for the first time.