Football

Dybala: I'm not the new Messi

Juventus' new star, who scored two goals against Barcelona, shuns comparison with compatriot

Juventus forward Paulo Dybala said his two-goal performance against Barcelona was the sort of night he had dreamed about since playing on the bumpy pitches of the Argentine second division as a slightly built teenager.

The 23-year-old is arguably the most exciting player to have come out of Argentina since Lionel Messi and managed to upstage the five-time World Player of the Year as he led Juventus to an emphatic 3-0 win in the Champions League quarter-final, first leg yesterday morning (Singapore time).

"I am very happy because as a child, I wanted to live these moments and today I have succeeded in that," he said.

"We are all in a very positive moment with a lot of confidence and that's important to go forward and achieve our objectives."

SLOW START

Although his diminutive stature, speed and trickery have sometimes led to comparisons with Messi, Dybala has made a slower start to his career.

The 1.76m player began playing professionally as a 17-year-old at Cordoba club Insituto in the Argentine second tier, the same age at which Messi was already with Barcelona.

He then joined Palermo, often seen as a stepping stone for South Americans moving to Europe. Juventus bought him for 32 million euros (S$48 million) in June 2015.

One uncanny coincidence is that both players were sent off on their Argentina debuts - Messi in a friendly against Hungary in 2005 and Dybala in a World Cup qualifier against Uruguay last September.

People need to understand that I am Paulo Dybala and that’s who I want to continue to be.  Paulo Dybala, in an interview before the match

The player known as the Jewel has tried to play down comparisons with Messi, however.

"People need to understand that I am Paulo Dybala and that's who I want to continue to be," he said in an interview before the match.

"I understand the comparisons and I respect Messi for all he has achieved but I do not want to be the new Messi or the Messi of the future. I am me."

Often deployed behind the front duo of Gonzalo Higuain and Mario Mandzukic, Dybala has also contributed his share of goals, scoring 12 domestically and four in the Champions League this term, making him a fan favourite at the Juventus Stadium.

The fans also like to mimick his trademark goal celebration, in which he forms a mask with his hand to symbolise the spirit of a gladiator.

"When we struggle, sometimes we must wear our warrior mask to be stronger, without losing our smile and kindness," he said in a Facebook post to explain his celebration in January.

Mindful of Barcelona's ability to bounce back from the dead, Dybala warned against complacency ahead of the return leg in Catalonia next Thursday morning (Singapore time).

He said: "We are in a very good position and we're playing with great confidence, but we cannot relax beacuse it will be very difficult at the Nou Camp." - WIRE SERVICES

Another great escape unlikely, says Enrique

Barcelona coach Luis Enrique admitted that it would be difficult for his side to pull off another great escape after they suffered a heavy first-leg defeat in the Champions League again.

Having overcome a 4-0 first-leg deficit against Paris Saint- Germain in the previous round with a 6-1 win at home, Barca contrived to lose 3-0 to Juventus in their quarter-final, first leg in Turin yesterday morning (Singapore time).

"This time, it's more difficult to believe in a comeback. It was like reliving a nightmare... I can't get the first half out of my head," said Enrique, who used the word "nightmare" four times.

"It's difficult to pull off another turnaround like the one against Paris St Germain, although, on the other hand, I also thought it was unlikely that we could lose again like we did against the French team.

"Although we improved after half-time, the first half was full of problems.

THIRD HALF FROM PARIS

"Maybe it wasn't (a repeat of) Paris, but it was like the third half from Paris.

"It's difficult for a coach to try and do everything right for the team and then realise that he hasn't succeeded.

"I don't really want to think about it now. Tomorrow, we'll have to think that we can score three goals to level the tie and four to win it."

Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta insists it is still not over, despite failing to breach a water-tight Juventus backline that has leaked only two goals in nine Champions League games this season.

He said: "Something else was seen from us in the second half. We deserved to score, but it means little now.

"We don't feel as bad as we did in Paris, but we have another big mountain to climb.

"If we do things as we need to, we'll turn the tie around."

Juventus' former Barca right back Dani Alves believes that they had won the game on account of their own strengths, rather than Barca's weaknesses.

He said: "We played a great game in terms of defensive intensity, leaving no spaces at the back, which made things very difficult for our opponents.

"This result is more down to the strength of Juventus than Barcelona's weakness."

Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri wanted to make sure his team don't get carried away.

He said: "It's just the first step. In Barcelona, it will be different and we have to try and score a goal." - WIRE SERVICES

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