Maxi López plays a little later tonight in the Copa Libertadores as his Grêmio side take on Caracas FC in the first leg of the quarter-final. There have been two very prominent performances on the other side of the Atlantic tonight though, as the two previous winners – Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez – looked to stake late claims to nominations for the HEGS / Mundo Albiceleste award for Best Argentine Abroad this season. Nominations close in two hours at midnight Argentine time (4am British Summer Time); email yours (one name only please) to firstname.lastname@example.org, and keep an eye out for the final five, which will be posted shortly.
Manchester United’s Carlos Tevez was a half-time substitute who ultimately saw very little of the ball – a consequence of one of López’s old clubs, FC Barcelona, putting in a superb performance against the defending champions which was capped by a contest-ending goal from little Lionel Messi. It was Messi’s first goal against an English club, but the biggest surprise of all was how he scored it – with his head!
Tevez, who won the HEGS award in 2008 but has endured a difficult season at Old Trafford since then, had the misfortune of being sent on at half time of a match that was already in danger of running away from Manchester United, and looked somewhat out of sorts. The fact that Barcelona were, if not completely on top of their game then very close to that standard, didn’t help him any. He saw little of the ball and when United manager Sir Alex Ferguson decided to throw in the towel by sending Dimitar Berbatov on, Carlitos was always going to have a bit much to do.
2007 winner Lionel Messi, meanwhile, enjoyed himself a bit more. He should have done, after comments about his team having the ‘moral right’ the trophy before the match had even been played. That little bit of distastefulness was made up for by a performance that, whilst not among his most spectacular, was more than good enough to demonstrate what he’s capable of at such a level. He also managed to give the lie to the idea he was incapable of scoring against English defences.
In the first half a cut inside and shot was flashed inches over the crossbar, and in the second an elegant jump and hang-in-the-air of which forwards of far more aerial prowess would have been proud was abruptly ended when the ball smacked him in the side of the head (he’s a cracking player but he’s clearly not practised heading it much) and arched over Edwin van der Sar and into the net to put Barcelona 2-0 up with twenty minutes left, and the match beyond doubt.
Before the match some of the noises coming from the Manchester club – who now have to settle for just calling themselves champions of England and the world – had suggested they might be prepared to give way a little in talks to bring Tevez to Old Trafford on a permanent basis, but after the player’s declarations a few weeks ago we shall have to see. Messi has no such worries for Barcelona. After a few years waiting, we’ve finally seen what he’s capable of doing when he stays fit for something like a whole season. Barcelona have become the first team ever to win the Spanish league, Copa del Rey and European Cup in the same season – and he’s been their most important player.