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There was never any doubt was there? Barcelona and Argentina forward Lionel Messi has been awarded the 2009 Ballon D’Or by French magazine France Football.
The 22-year-old became the first Ballon D’Or winner from Argentina, eclipsing runner-up and last year’s winner Cristiano Ronaldo by a record 240-point margin.
The award’s 96 jurors gave Messi 473 points out of a possible 480, a near unanimous verdict, the magazine said.
The win caps a brilliant year for the soft-spoken left-footer, who helped Barcelona to a Champions League title with nine goals, as well as La Liga and the King’s Cup.
Some of football’s biggest names, including Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, are in danger of missing out on next year’s World Cup, as countries such as Argentina, Portugal and France struggle in qualification.
Most, if not quite all of them, may make it in the end, of course, but for a bit of pre-weekend qualifier fun, here’s my stab at a world XI wtill fretting over their places at South Africa 2010.
You are guaranteed goals when Barcelona take on Atletico Madrid each season, and Saturday’s encounter at the Nou Camp was no exception as the European champions romped to a 5-2 victory.
Barca were 4-0 up within 41 minutes after goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Lionel Messi, Daniel Alves and Seydou Keita, before Atletico pulled one back through Sergio Aguero.
Pep Guardiola’s superb Barca side four clear at the top with five games left to play. Champions Real in second on a run of 17 wins and a draw in 18 matches since a 2-0 loss at the Nou Camp in December and refusing to capitulate. The nation’s arch soccer rivals locking horns. Spain versus Catalunya.The stage was set for my first “Clasico” at the Bernabeu.I had read about the great matches of the past and seen the headlines: “The match of the century!”, “The greatest show on earth!”.It was time to experience it for myself.I hopped off the bus near the stadium and fought my way through the throng of Real faithful, already in good voice and enjoying the evening sunshine more than an hour-and-a-half before kickoff.A policeman waved me through the barriers holding back the crowds and I collected my accreditation and took the lift up to the press tribune on the fifth floor.It was oddly quiet inside the mammoth arena, a few photographers and officials milling about by the pitch, and the muted sound of the boisterous supporters outside punctuated by the occasional firecracker and police siren.Fabio Cannavaro, Arjen Robben and a few other Real players strolled out on to the pitch for a few minutes and Royston Drenthe posed for some photographs as I leafed through the media notes.Biggest home defeat for Real in “El Clasico” 5-0 way back in February 1974, four days before I was born. Probably won’t be needing that particular stat.When the spectators were finally allowed in, the atmosphere quickly warmed up and any attempt at singing by the small knot of Barca fans high to my right was met with a chorus of whistles and hoots.The volume of noise was rising all the time and reached a crescendo as the two teams marched on to the pitch and the spectators held up pieces of card that turned the stands white. Game on.“You don’t want to do that,” I thought as Sergio Ramos gave the ball away to Lionel Messi in a dangerous position in the first minute, perhaps a sign of things to come.The Real faithful went nuts when Gonzalo Higuain grabbed the lead but it wasn’t long before Barca asserted themselves and Real’s chances of defending their league title were fast receding.As the goals rolled in, a colleague in the press box, a lifelong Real fan, was growing increasingly despondent and the invective issuing from the mouth of the Spanish journalist behind us, mostly directed at the referee, was increasingly extreme.When Messi scored to make it 5-2 with around 15 minutes left, waves of shell-shocked Real fans started heading for the exits.The referee did not prolong the agony, ending the match on 90 minutes, and I quickly filed my first take and a rapid update before dashing down to the press conferences with a beaming Guardiola and a glum Juande Ramos.Eight goals scored by some of the most exciting players around, tons of chances, plenty of controversy, passionate fans in a stunning soccer arena and a famous result in one of the most intensely contested fixtures in world sport.The kind of match you don’t forget in a hurry.PHOTO: Barcelona’s Lionel Messi (L) celebrates his goal against Real Madrid during their match at the Bernabeu, May 2, 2009. REUTERS/Juan Medina
Argentine media allocate dozens of pages to football daily and the country has two 24-hour cable channels almost exclusively dedicated to the sport. Quite often it’s a struggle to fill all that paper and airtime — so much so that one of the TV channels passes away the afternoon with a programme in which the presenters play foot-tennis.
But on Thursday, there was more than enough to talk about. How did Argentina, supposedly revitalised by Diego Maradona, lose 6-1 away to Bolivia, one of the region’s weakest teams, in a World Cup qualifier?