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Football | Champions League

Messi tastes rare failure



With a Barcelona shirt on, pretty much everything has gone right for Lionel Messi in the past four seasons, a run of form that has helped the Catalan club to 13 trophies and the Argentine to three World Player of the Year awards.

Messi, who is yet to convince many of his compatriots he is the true heir to Diego Maradona, had scored an astonishing 63 goals in all competitions this season before he took to the field in London last week for the Champions League semifinal first leg against Chelsea.

However, unlike in recent times, when Barca's season reached the crucial moment, his scoring touch - and luck - deserted him.

He failed to find the net in either leg of the semifinal, meaning he has now been unable to score against Chelsea in eight outings, by far his worst record against any club, and suffered the ignominy of seeing his second-half penalty crash off the bar on Tuesday at the Nou Camp.

He also drew a blank on Saturday when Barca slipped to a 2-1 La Liga defeat at home to arch rivals Real Madrid which all-but ended their bid for a fourth straight title.

Cristiano Ronaldo, the only man who has come close to matching Messi's scoring feats, rubbed salt in the wounds by netting the winner, helping him shed the tag of a player who does not produce in big games.

If Real, who trail Bayern Munich 2-1 ahead of the second leg in Madrid on Wednesday, can win the Champions League and the Portuguese performs well at Euro 2012 he is likely to claim back the World Player award he won in 2008 before Messi's three-straight successes.

FEW BAD HOURS

Messi's coach Pep Guardiola has repeatedly pointed out that Barca's recent success has in large part been down to the brilliance of the softly-spoken, shy little lad from Rosario known as 'the flea'.

He rallied behind his charge after Tuesday's bitter setback.

"We have got this far thanks to this kid," the former midfielder told a news conference.

"More than ever I want to thank him for what he's done," added the 41-year-old.

"My admiration for him knows no limits. He is an example for all of us, his competitiveness inspires us.

"He's daring, he's brave and he plays fantastically well in all kinds of different conditions.

"I don't doubt he will have a few bad hours now but football is like this.

"Sometimes you smile and sometimes you are sad and it's our turn to be sad and someone else is going to the final in Munich and we have to come back next year."

Messi still has a chance to help Barca to another trophy when they take on Athletic Bilbao in next month's King's Cup final in Madrid.

For now, the 24-year-old, already the club's all-time top scorer and the only man to have scored five goals in a Champions League game, will have to deal with the feelings of disappointment that he and his teammates have rarely tasted since Guardiola took over in 2008.

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