Messi says 'special duel' with Ronaldo will 'remain forever' in people's minds

By Sports Desk January 15, 2020

Lionel Messi believes the "special duel" between him and Cristiano Ronaldo when the pair were on opposite sides of the Clasico rivalry will leave a lasting impression.

The Barcelona superstar went head-to-head with Ronaldo for almost a decade in LaLiga, where the two scored at an astonishing rate and practically assumed shared custody of the Ballon d'Or.

Debate rages over who the world's best player is, but a shortlist of two is almost universally accepted – it is either Messi or Ronaldo.

The Portugal forward has since departed for Juventus, but Messi ​– who won a record sixth Ballon d'Or in December – has fond memories of their long-running Spanish saga.

"The matches against Real always mean a lot, but when Cristiano was there they became much more special," said Messi.

"But it's a time that has passed now, that we have experienced. Now, we have to look ahead to the future.

"It was a special duel and it will remain [in people's minds] forever, because it lasted for many years and it is not easy to maintain such levels for a long time. 

"Plus, the teams we played in were also very demanding, both Real Madrid and Barca, the two best teams in the world.

"The sporting duel between us was very nice on a personal level and I think people had fun too, whether they were fans of Madrid or Barca, or even only football fans in general."

Barca this week appointed a new head coach, with Quique Setien replacing Ernesto Valverde, despite the club sitting joint-top of the table with Madrid.

The last Clasico clash ended 0-0 at Camp Nou in December, with Barca set to head to the Santiago Bernabeu in March.

 

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    Juventus president Andrea Agnelli made clear public health comes first amid the possibility of further fixtures being postponed in Serie A – even if that means his club taking on Inter behind closed doors.

    Following the recent outbreak of the coronavirus in Italy, the decision was taken to call off four of the top-flight games scheduled to take place on Sunday, including Inter's clash with Sampdoria.

    Italy prime minister Giuseppe Conte has said all of Serie A's week 26 fixtures could yet be postponed, with the country taking preventative measures following the death of two people, as well as dozens more reportedly testing positive for the virus.

    Table-topping Juve – who played on Saturday, triumphing 2-1 at SPAL – are due to host third-place Inter on Sunday, though a media report has suggested the game could go ahead but without fans present at the Allianz Stadium.

    Agnelli admitted during an appearance on Radio 24 that such a situation would not be ideal, but understands the bigger picture considering the situation.

    "At this moment, the priority for the country is the protection of public health," he said.

    "Starting from this, there is a dialogue with those who have to decide, but we will accept the decisions that are taken.

    "The interruption of the sports system is difficult; the schedule is clogged. Starting the championship late – and not playing in the Christmas break – means that if you miss a game it becomes difficult to recover."

    On the prospect of playing Inter without supporters present, or possibly even at an alternative venue, he added: "Organising a match like Juve-Inter in a different stadium is extremely complicated.

    "I'm sorry about the show itself because the championship is affected because of a historic game of football. But we must preserve the priority: public health."

  • Napoli will not have a cage to stop Messi, says Gattuso Napoli will not have a cage to stop Messi, says Gattuso

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    Napoli go into the last-16 tie, which starts with a home first leg on Tuesday, as clear underdogs to progress.

    But Gattuso wants his team to show belief and, amid reports his players would try to isolate Messi from the rest of his team-mates with a unique man-marking strategy, insists there is only so much you can do to stop Barca's talisman.

    "You need to stand up to Barcelona," head coach Gattuso said at his pre-match news conference.

    "I want to see a lively team that plays without worry and with joy until the end. I want a Napoli side that are not afraid. 

    "We haven't played great at the San Paolo in recent weeks, except against Juventus, so I want to see a team that knows how to battle. It is fair to have respect for the opponent, but not fear.

    "I read that I would prepare a cage to stop Messi. It is not so, we need the collective to play the game and remember that there is not only Messi on the field.

    "Lorenzo Insigne said that Messi is a great player. He does things that I see only those who play the Play Station do, he has incredible quality.

    "And he's not only great at a footballing level. He is the greatest for how he has conducted his career. He's an example for kids to follow. He never says anything inappropriate.

    "You can't stop Messi, but in these moments my players have to try. We are playing against Barcelona, it is not only Messi.

    "It doesn't make sense to have a player man mark Messi but we will try some things in training and then we will see."

    Referring to Napoli icon Diego Maradona, Gattuso added: "He was the god of football, I saw him in many videotapes, but never live.

    "I know, however, the champion that Diego was, certainly one of the biggest in the world. 

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    "Barca have some important players missing, but Quique Setien is a great coach and with him they have returned to many of the things they did in the past. They win the ball back so quickly. We know it will take a great performance to win.

    "Can Napoli win the Champions League? Never say never. I thank the team and Carlo Ancelotti for their work as I haven't done anything to get here, but now I am excited."

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    Flick took over as Bayern's interim coach in November with the defending Bundesliga champions in danger of being cut adrift in the title race.

    However, they now hold a one-point lead at the top of the table and face Chelsea in the last 16 of the Champions League.

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    Matthaus, who won seven Bundesliga titles with Bayern, is confident they will prove their superiority against the Blues and feels they can claim the European crown as well as the league and DFB-Pokal.

    "Since Flick has been coach, Bayern have been calm. This is comparable to the [Jupp] Heynckes period. The club and the entire environment have moved closer together," Matthaus told AZ.

    "This is transferred to the fans and the team. Hansi has a good feel for a team, he is great in human and communicative terms. 

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    "It is a very young team that has undergone a change. Therefore I assume that Bayern will reach the next round with two good performances. 

    "In terms of quality, Bayern is well ahead of Chelsea. In the Premier League, the Blues are only fourth, more than 30 points behind Liverpool. N'Golo Kante is also injured. 

    "Overall, the team no longer has the shine of earlier days."

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