Football

Messi is 'the best player in history'

Enrique and football world in awe of Messi, who reaches the 500-goal milestone for Barcelona

Barcelona boss Luis Enrique declared Lionel Messi "the best player in history" after the Argentina star's last-minute winner at Real Madrid yesterday morning (Singapore time) blew open the La Liga title race.

Messi's 500th Barcelona goal - struck with the last kick of a thrilling match - gave the visitors a memorable 3-2 victory at the Santiago Bernabeu and took them to the La Liga summit.

The two sides are level on 75 points, but Barcelona sit top by virtue of having the better head-to-head record from the two games with Real.

Zinedine Zidane's side do have a game in hand with six matches to play, but Barcelona will be hoping for a momentum shift after Messi ended his run of six El Clasico games without a goal.

"He is the best player in history, he is incredibly decisive at all times," Enrique was quoted as saying by Marca on Messi's virtuoso performance.

"I have seen a lot of football, it is a great pleasure that he is one of us."

Casemiro gave Real a 28th-minute lead after Sergio Ramos had hooked against the post.

But Barcelona were level within five minutes when Messi burst on to Ivan Rakitic's pass on the edge of the box and finished in style.

In a see-saw contest, Rakitic put Barcelona ahead with a ferocious 73rd-minute drive before Ramos was sent off four minutes later for a two-footed lunge on Messi.

Real appeared to have salvaged a point when substitute James Rodriguez converted from close range five minutes from time.

But Messi had the final word with his 16th El Clasico goal in La Liga matches - a record.

Barcelona striker Luis Suarez led the tributes for Messi, telling the club's website: "It's time to enjoy beating a direct opponent, Madrid. It's time to enjoy the best player in the world and of all time.

"He keeps showing that in the most important games, which is when you really see him. It's admirable.

"Our destiny still isn't in our hands, but they're under pressure to win every game, because we aim to do the same."

AN HONOUR AND A BLESSING

Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta echoed Suarez's sentiments, adding: "The great thing about Leo is that he never stops surprising you.

"After so many years, he continues to be the difference. For us, it is an honour and a blessing for the club."

Real coach Zidane felt that his team paid the cost for failing to take the scoring chances which came their way.

"We cannot be happy," Zidane said. "We made a lot (of chances) during the whole game.

"We had many goalscoring chances, but couldn't bring the game under control.

"When you don't kill the game off, this can happen, and it did.

"Messi made the difference for his team, but it is not only Messi.

"We are disappointed with the result, when you get back to 2-2 with 10 men, you have to think a little more and defend together."

Both sides are in action again on Thursday morning - Barcelona at home to Osasuna and Real away to Deportivo La Coruna - and Zidane said their focus must now turn to that game.

"I have to look at the game again but I wouldn't have changed anything," Zidane said. "There is a lot of the league left and we have to think about the next game."

Ramos felt it was harsh to dismiss him for the clash with Messi, saying: "The sending-off was a key moment because they scored in the last minute.

"Everyone is entitled to their opinion and I respect that but, for me, a red card was excessive.

"I caught him late, but I didn't go in to harm the player. I don't talk about the referees because they can make mistakes like any of us and I'm never going to discuss it." - WIRE SERVICES

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