Reuters: Lionel Messi gave a new meaning to the phrase ‘Hand of God’ when he netted a Champions League record five goals in Barcelona’s 7-1 demolition of Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday.
The Argentina forward has always had to endure comparisons with his compatriot Diego Maradona, who coined the famous phrase after using his fist to score a goal that helped knock England out of the 1986 World Cup.
“La manita de Dios” (the little hand of God) was the front page headline on sports dailies Marca and Mundo Deportivo on Thursday, as local media scrambled to find new ways to describe the 24-year-old’s latest goal-scoring feat.
World Player of the Year Messi netted five and youth team winger Tello added two more as the holders crushed the German side 10-2 on aggregate to sweep into their fifth consecutive Champions League quarter-final.
At the end of the match at the Nou Camp, Barca fans waved one hand aloft, open with all the fingers spread wide, in the sign of ‘la manita’ while they chanted his name.
“The 75,632 spectators that saw it live will be able to say ‘I was there’,” sports daily AS wrote.
“Like when Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a (NBA) game, when Muhammad Ali beat Sonny Liston, or when Bob Beamon flew (in the long jump) at the Mexico Olympics.”
Speaking at the Global Sports Forum in Barcelona on Thursday, former France and Manchester United striker Eric Cantona was asked about Messi’s performance.
“I have always thought that Barca’s play was incredible but Messi is exceptional,” Cantona said.
“He retains an almost childlike enthusiasm for the game and you can see that when he is playing in front of thousands of people there are moments when he feels like a great star.
“The great players are those who retain the ingenuity of the child.”
Both coaches, Barca’s Pep Guardiola and Leverkusen’s Robin Dutt showered praise on Messi’s display as did his team mates.
“It’s not only that he scored goals, but they weren’t easy either. They were fantastic goals and that’s what makes it even more special,” Spain and Barca midfielder Cesc Fabregas told reporters.
On Twitter, Atletico Madrid’s Columbia striker Radamel Falcao said: “Was it a Champions League game or one on Playstation? If he scored six would he get two match balls?” England and Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney wrote: “Messi is a joke. For me the best ever.”