Cristiano Ronaldo has labelled Kobe Bryant a "true legend" after the Los Angeles Lakers great died in a helicopter crash on Sunday.

Bryant, along with his daughter Gianna, passed away along with seven others after the helicopter he was travelling in crashed near the Californian city of Calabasas in Los Angeles County.

Figures from across the world of sport paid tribute to the former Lakers star – a five-time NBA champion.

While Neymar dedicated one of his goals for Paris Saint-Germain against Lille to the 41-year-old and Lionel Messi also hailed Bryant, Ronaldo posted his condolences to Twitter.

"So sad to hear the heartbreaking news of the deaths of Kobe and his daughter Gianna," Ronaldo tweeted.

"Kobe was a true legend and inspiration to so many. Sending my condolences to his family and friends and the families of all who lost their lives in the crash. RIP Legend."

Juventus suffered a 2-1 loss at Napoli on Sunday, ending the Serie A champions' run of five straight wins in the league.

Piotr Zielinski scored the opening goal of the game midway through the second half, finishing on the rebound after Wojciech Szczesny pushed Lorenzo Insigne's shot back into the danger zone.

Napoli had lost four home league games in a row but climb to 10th in the table after Insigne volleyed in a second, Maurizio Sarri's return to Stadio San Paolo ending in Juve's second league defeat of the season. 

Cristiano Ronaldo hit a late reply but Juve missed the chance to move further ahead of nearest title rivals Inter and remain three points clear in top spot.

August's reverse fixture was a seven-goal thriller, Juve 2-0 ahead inside 20 minutes though needing Kalidou Koulibaly's late own goal to seal a 4-3 win, but this time half-time arrived with a single shot on target.

Arkadiusz Milik's tame header was comfortably saved by Szczesny with Napoli having had the edge in a strangely low-key opening 45 minutes.

Juve lost Miralem Pjanic to injury shortly after the break, the midfielder having been hurt in a tackle from Diego Demme before the break with Adrien Rabiot introduced in his place.

A late offside flag denied Ronaldo a 53rd-minute opener, the Portuguese then tricking his way past Elseid Hysaj to set up Gonzalo Higuain, whose low drive was stopped by Alex Meret.

Juve appeared in control but Napoli broke the deadlock on the counter in the 63rd minute when Szczesny parried Insigne's 25-yard drive and Zielinski was on hand to convert the rebound.

Napoli had penalty appeals rejected when Juan Cuadrado appeared to handle inside the box but the points were sealed by Insigne's strike that deflected in off Matthijs de Ligt in the closing stages.

Ronaldo gave Juve hope, extending his scoring streak to eight games, but when Higuain's overhead kick flew straight at Meret in the 94th minute, Napoli had secured a famous win.


What does it mean? Hope for Inter in title race

Juve - who started with Ronaldo, Higuain and Paulo Dybala all in attack - would have been six points clear had they won, with yet another title surely within their grasp. 

This result will be welcomed by Inter, who earlier in the day were held to a third straight league draw, while Lazio moved five points behind Juve after they drew with rivals Roma.

As for Napoli, a first home league win since October may prove a turning point in their season with results having failed to improve since Gennaro Gattuso was appointed as Carlo Ancelotti's successor.


Di Lorenzo stars as Koulibaly's deputy

Giovanni Di Lorenzo was excellent in the heart of the Napoli defence, showing a calmness in possession and helping to keep Ronaldo and ex-Napoli striker Higuain quiet.


Szczesny error proves costly

With Gianluigi Buffon back on the bench after starting the midweek win over Roma, his replacement Szczesny made a bad mistake to hand Napoli the opening goal. Insigne's strike was not easy to deal with but Szczesny made a mess of his save, presenting Zielinski with a tap-in.


What's next?

Juve will aim to bounce back when they return to action at home to Fiorentina next Sunday, with Napoli away to Sampdoria a day later.

Maurizio Sarri is delighted with Juventus' form but acknowledges the team must be better than in seasons past if they are to again retain their Serie A title.

The Bianconeri defeated Roma 3-1 in the Coppa Italia quarter-finals on Wednesday, scoring through Cristiano Ronaldo, Rodrigo Bentancur and Leonardo Bonucci before half-time.

It was a fifth win in a row in all competitions for Juve, in which time they have built a four-point lead over Inter at the top of the league table.

Sarri saw evidence of this winning mentality against Roma but acknowledged improvement was required in a three-way title tussle with the Nerazzurri and Lazio.

"Winning is becoming normal," Sarri explained at a post-match news conference. "I'm happy for the team.

"But we don't have to look at the numbers because it will be more difficult this year. We will certainly have to do better than previous years if we want to be competitive in the league."

Ronaldo took his 2020 tally to seven goals in four games, and Sarri lauded his "extraordinary" talisman while again repeating a desire to help the Portuguese secure individual honours.

"Ronaldo is in extraordinary physical and mental condition," the head coach said. "He is continuing at an impressive pace and has extraordinary skills.

"He is very well physically. In terms of explosiveness, he is good. He takes great care of the details.

"Ronaldo is a champion, we want to help him win the sixth Ballon d'Or, it would make us all happy."

Juve's next league task takes them to Sarri's former club Napoli, who are struggling in the bottom half of the table.

"It will be a difficult game. We must not look at their position in the table," Sarri added. "They have a strong team. They are going through a difficult time but have good players. 

"From one point of view, there are three points at stake. From my point of view, from a personal point of view, it will be particularly special because I am very close to Napoli."

Cristiano Ronaldo was on target as Juventus breezed into the Coppa Italia semi-finals with a comprehensive 3-1 victory over Roma on Wednesday.

Portugal forward Ronaldo opened the scoring at Allianz Stadium with his seventh goal in four matches for Juve in 2020.

Rodrigo Bentancur and Leonardo Bonucci then found the net to give the Bianconeri a three-goal advantage at half-time.

Roma pulled one back when Cengiz Under's effort from the edge of the box hit the crossbar and rebounded into the net off veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, but Juve comfortably advanced and will face Milan or Torino – who meet on January 28 – in the last four.

Juventus head coach Maurizio Sarri picked a strong starting line-up for the quarter-final clash and after a low-key start his side increased the tempo to seize control.

The 13-time Coppa Italia winners took the lead in the 26th minute with a goal that owed much to Ronaldo's ability to finish from a tight angle.

Ronaldo escaped his marker on the left before cutting inside and guiding a low shot across goal past Roma keeper Pau Lopez.

Juventus added a second on the counter attack 12 minutes later when Bentancur, surrounded by six Roma players, squeezed an effort into the bottom-left corner from 12 yards.

Roma's defence were culpable for Juve's third on the stroke of half-time as the unmarked Bonucci calmly headed in at the back post after being picked out by Douglas Costa's cross.

Gonzalo Higuain hit the woodwork in the 48th minute and Paulo Fonseca's side reduced the deficit two minutes later. Under's shot from just outside the box struck the underside of the bar and went in off Buffon's hand.

However, Juventus stood firm in the closing stages to pick up a fifth straight victory in all competitions.

 

What does it mean? Juve continue treble challenge 

Juve's streak of four consecutive Coppa Italia titles was ended in a 3-0 loss at the quarter-final stage last season by eventual runners-up Atalanta.

Against Roma there was a clear determination to secure a semi-final spot this time around and ensure their treble dreams remain on course.

With a two-legged last-16 Champions League tie against Lyon and the Serie A title to defend, the season is very much alive and kicking for Sarri's side.

Ronaldo remains relentless

A cup tie on a chilly Wednesday in Turin - you could forgive Ronaldo for taking it easy. Not a bit of it. The five-time Ballon d'Or winner turns 35 in February but remains as hungry as ever. His celebration after scoring was raw and passionate as he played the full 90 minutes.

One to forget for sloppy Smalling

It was not a game to remember for the on-loan Manchester United centre-back. Smalling failed to marshal a slipshod Roma defence and his positioning was poor in goals scored by Bentancur and Bonucci.

What's next?

Juventus return to Serie A action on Sunday in a clash with Napoli, while Roma face city rivals Lazio earlier in the day in the Derby della Capitale.

Kylian Mbappe has suggested he cannot replicate what Lionel Messi has achieved at Barcelona and will instead look to Cristiano Ronaldo for inspiration.

Since bursting onto the scene with Monaco in 2016, a move to Paris Saint-Germain and a charge to World Cup glory with France has made the 21-year-old one of the leading lights in football.

However, when it comes to choosing between Messi and Ronaldo on who to model his career path on, Mbappe acknowledged his switch from Monaco to PSG means he cannot follow in the footsteps of Barca's six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

"It's too late for me to carve out a career like Messi's, I would have had to stay at Monaco," Mbappe told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"Without taking anything away from Messi, now I have to draw on Cristiano's career for inspiration.

"If you're French, obviously you would have grown up with [Zinedine] Zidane as your idol. After that, it was Cristiano, who I have been fortunate enough to have faced as an opponent, at club level and with the national team.

"I also love Brazilian players like Pele, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Kaka. And to the young players who look up to me, I'd like to send them a message from someone who believed in their dream, always giving the best they had to give, trying to push their own limits to be able to make a mark in sport."

Mbappe also believes Ronaldo gives Juventus an edge in the Champions League, a competition the Portugal captain has won five times, making the Serie A giants a favourite.

"Juventus are a strong side - they've shown that in the finals they've played during the past few seasons," said Mbappe, who has scored 21 goals in all competitions for PSG this term.

"They have always lacked something to give them the edge and now they have that in Cristiano. He's a player who makes you win major trophies.

"This year Juventus are among the favourites – along with the usual suspects – Real Madrid, Barcelona and Liverpool."

Cristiano Ronaldo will be evaluated on Wednesday to see if he will be fit for Juventus' Coppa Italia quarter-final against Roma.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner sat out last week's 4-0 victory over Udinese in the last 16 due to illness.

He returned to the line-up on Sunday and scored Juve's goals in a 2-1 triumph against Parma.

Maurizio Sarri suggested the 34-year-old will not be rested if he is deemed physically capable of turning out against Roma at Allianz Stadium.

"We'll evaluate Ronaldo tomorrow morning. He can play three games in a week, I don't see a huge problem," Sarri said on Tuesday.

"In the last Coppa match he was unwell and now I want to understand if he has fully recovered and if he is ready to play three games.

"[Juan] Cuadrado trained in the gym as a precaution today. Alex Sandro has a problem with the transverse muscle but it's nothing serious. Both will be evaluated.

"Adrien [Rabiot] came out of the last match with a couple of serious knocks. He'll also be evaluated, he's a player with important physical quality even during the recovery between matches.

"Douglas Costa isn't at peak condition yet but he's doing well and is regaining continuity in training."

He added: "Roma are a strong team, therefore it's normal that against them you'll have periods of the match in which you'll suffer.

"It will be important for us to keep our shape and balance, also with different players in attack. However, I haven't decided anything yet, not even the formation."

Maurizio Sarri hailed "champion" Cristiano Ronaldo after his brace saw Juventus to a precious 2-1 Serie A home win against Parma.

Ronaldo scored in either half to clinch victory on Sunday, capitalising on title rivals Inter's failure to beat Lecce earlier in the day.

The Portuguese was a defensive contributor, too, yet he was outjumped by Andreas Cornelius as Parma briefly pulled level.

Sarri is happy to take the rough with the smooth when it comes to his star man, though.

"We have a champion who sometimes creates a problem for you but solves 100 of them," he told Sky Sport Italia. "The rest of the team has to revolve around him."

Ronaldo had chances for further goals, and Sarri was frustrated with his team's inability to extend their lead and set up a straightforward finale.

"The mental intensity can be improved, even the management of certain moments of the matches," he said. "I don't even like dribbling in our own half in the last few minutes.

"I would prefer to concede a goal on the counter-attack than in our own penalty area.

"Putting Higuain on at 2-1 was a clear message to the team: let's end the game."

Victory saw Juve move four points clear of second-placed Inter, although Lazio are also a threat a further two points back but with a game in hand.

However, Sarri is concerned by neither the Nerazzurri nor the in-form capital club.

"I have a fear for other things, not for football. Concern? Even that [would not describe it]," he said. "We are talking about sports.

"We know we have two very strong opponents. One is in an amazing moment that will hopefully not last long."

Cristiano Ronaldo acknowledged the importance of Juventus winning against Parma after seeing Serie A title rivals Inter draw at Lecce earlier on Sunday.

Ronaldo scored both goals in a 2-1 home win for the Bianconeri, who moved four points clear of Inter after Antonio Conte's men were held 1-1 earlier in the day.

Talismanic forward Ronaldo was in typically inspirational form, but he valued the victory above his personal heroics.

"The important thing was to win tonight," the striker told Sky Sport Italia. "Lazio won, Inter drew, and we could not afford not to take advantage of this important opportunity.

"It was a difficult game, because Parma are an excellent team who caused us some difficulties.

"I'm happy to have helped the team with two goals, but the important thing is always the three points at the end.

"They created more chances in the second half - we were nervous at the end - but we managed to get a key result."

Juve face Napoli away in their next Serie A match but must first take on Roma in another tricky fixture in the Coppa Italia quarter-finals.

Cristiano Ronaldo fired reigning Serie A champions Juventus four points clear at the top of the table with a brace in a 2-1 win at home to Parma.

Juve were given an unexpected boost in the title race earlier on Sunday when Inter were held 1-1 at Lecce, and Ronaldo ensured his side took full advantage.

Maurizio Sarri's men were not wholly convincing but, in the Portuguese, had the game's outstanding player, who opened the scoring late in the first half.

Andreas Cornelius outjumped Ronaldo for an unlikely equaliser, yet revenge was swift for the five-time Ballon d'Or winner, a second goal soon sealing victory for the leaders.

Alex Sandro headed just over from an early corner, but the left-back had to be replaced by Danilo after 21 minutes as Juve struggled to get into their stride.

Ronaldo worked room for a shot on the right-hand side of the area, drawing a good save from Luigi Sepe that prompted another corner from which the Juve number seven wastefully missed the target.

The former Real Madrid superstar continued to provide the Bianconeri's chief threat and forged the breakthrough two minutes before half-time, cutting inside from the left to shoot hard and low, his effort taking a deflection that wrongfooted Sepe and nestled in the net.

Aaron Ramsey drilled agonisingly wide before the break, while only a superb one-handed Sepe stop denied Danilo from 20 yards following the restart.

It was a Parma substitute who scored the next goal, however, Cornelius - on for Roberto Inglese moments after the opener - rising above Ronaldo from a right-wing corner to nod in a towering header.

But Ronaldo's response was ruthless, meeting Paulo Dybala's cutback with a clinical first-time finish just three minutes later to clinch the points.

He might have completed his hat-trick in the closing minutes, but Sepe blocked a strike from the right before a header from the consequent corner looped over, and a curled strike from the left drifted wide.


What does it mean? Perennial champions back on top

Inter have looked capable of pushing Juventus all the way this season, but a gap has emerged at the top in the past week. Consecutive Nerazzurri draws have opened the door for the Turin giant and with the help of the inspirational Ronaldo, they have stepped right through. Juve are not in the business of letting such advantages slip.

Ronaldo reigns

The talismanic forward was signed largely to lead a Champions League charge, but Inter's impressive form has meant Juventus must also rely on Ronaldo to do the business domestically. He made no mistake on Sunday, deserving his fortune for the first goal and tucking away the second in style.

Ramsey reserved

Sarri has rotated between Ramsey and Gonzalo Higuain in recent weeks, feeling the front three that incorporates the latter is not suited to every match. But it was Ramsey who struggled to make an impact on this occasion, passing up a big chance late in the first half before he was replaced by Higuain after 59 minutes.

What's next?

Juventus have a big week coming up, first playing Roma at home in the Coppa Italia last eight on Wednesday before visiting Napoli in Serie A on Sunday. Parma host Udinese next weekend.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants to see Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood take up the mantle of Manchester United's last ruthless front three of Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney.

One of United's finest modern forward lines led Alex Ferguson's side to two league titles, an EFL Cup, the Club World Cup and back-to-back Champions League finals, one of which they won, between 2007 and 2009.

Ronaldo and Tevez left for Real Madrid and Manchester City respectively that year and United have struggled since to form a similarly effective trident in attack.

However, there are encouraging signs around Rashford, Martial and Greenwood, who have scored more goals combined in all competitions this season than Liverpool trio Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.

Solskjaer thinks it will take time to match the understanding of the Premier League leaders' attacking players but, ahead of Sunday's trip to Anfield, he believes in the potential of his forwards.

"The front three that they've got have been playing together for ages, not ages, but for seasons now," he said. "You can see the rotations, movements, the understanding between them, and we hope that our three get that understanding. I've probably only started them once together, the Newcastle United game, so we've got a way to go to get to the level of the three [at Liverpool], the understanding and consistency they have. But we scored four goals in that game [against Newcastle], so it's probably something I've got to look at more often.

"I believe in ours. We're going to add to them as well, definitely, but in the years to come I'm sure we'll see lots of them three. But Liverpool have scored more goals than us outside the front three so I'm not going to say ours are better than theirs or theirs are better than ours.

"We've got them on long contacts, developing into a very, very exciting front three. Ronaldo, Tevez, Rooney were different, floating, but that's what we want as Man United supporters - you want to see them express themselves, go to places like Anfield and put fear into their defenders. But we've got Dan James as well, who adds to that, so I'm very excited about it."

Solskjaer agrees that United's goalscoring threat belies the insinuation made by Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, after the 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in October, that the Red Devils are overly defensive against their fierce rivals.

"I don't think it's an accusation. You take it as a compliment that they didn't create chances against us," Solskjaer said. "When the opposition manager is frustrated, that's a good sign for you as a manager. Of course, I think we've been closer to winning both those games, so I don't know what the problem has been."

Ashley Young is set to join Inter provided he passes a medical on Friday and Solskjaer confirmed there were no plans to sign a replacement full-back.

For now, the United boss is putting faith in young Brandon Williams to rise to the challenge of playing at Anfield.

"Does he look like I need to speak to him? I don't think so," Solskjaer replied when asked if Williams might need guidance ahead of a traditionally tempestuous match.

"He's been absolutely outstanding since he's come in. Every challenge we've put in front of him, he's tackled head on and he's only 19, had 10, 11 starts. He reminds me so much of the mentality of Gary Neville and I think he'll enjoy going to Anfield, put it that way."

There is continued speculation United are trying to finalise the signing of midfielder Bruno Fernandes, but Solskjaer would only say: "I can't tell you about any players that play for other teams. We're focusing on this game at the moment. That's my only concern."

With United's arrival expected to be greeted by Liverpool fans outside the ground, Solskjaer says he has no particular concerns about a hostile atmosphere.

"No safety fears, no," he said. "They want to try to intimidate us but as long as it's within the boundaries. I've been sat in a coach going into Europe or Anfield and whatever they shout and scream at you, you don't really notice.

"We need a very, very good performance to go there and win, but we beat Manchester City last month, we had the Paris Saint-Germain game – we need to get to the level of those performances definitely when you go away to a team that's top of the league.

"The last two performances we've had against Liverpool, we've played at Old Trafford twice, drawn twice and been closest to winning both those games, so we've got games to look back at that will give us lots of belief.

"if we perform to our best, we've got a chance to win."

With Liverpool looking likely to end a title drought stretching back to 1990, Solskjaer thinks such an unexpectedly long gap between league triumphs for their bitter rivals should serve as a warning to United.

"We're working hard to make sure it doesn't happen," he said when asked if he feared United, who last won the title in 2013, could experience a similar dry spell. 

"Let that be a lesson for us. They've been close a few times and we can't let ourselves for another 24 years without winning the league. I'm sure we won't. I believe in this club. We've started something that takes a little bit of time, but we'll get there."

Juventus head coach Maurizio Sarri said it is "really annoying" that someone has won more Ballons d'Or than superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.

Barcelona captain Lionel Messi moved one ahead of Ronaldo for the Ballon d'Or record, claiming his sixth individual honour in December.

The result came despite Ronaldo helping Juve to an eighth consecutive Serie A title and Portugal win the inaugural Nations League crown.

Sari is determined for Ronaldo – who sat out Wednesday's 4-0 Coppa Italia last-16 victory over Udinese through illness – to add to his Ballon d'Or collection and match Messi.

"I would like to help Cristiano win the sixth Ballon d'Or first," Sarri told reporters post-game in Turin.

"It's really annoying thinking that someone won more [Ballons d'Or] than him. I think about him and I think helping him it is my goal and the goal of the team. It is right for him.

"[Paulo] Dybala is going to be one of the contenders in the next years. I think so."

While Ronaldo sat out, Juve forward Paulo Dybala dazzled with a brace and an assist against Udinese.

Dybala teed up Gonzalo Higuain for the 16th-minute opener following a stunning piece of combination play before curling a memorable strike past Nicolas approaching the hour mark, having converted a first-half penalty.

It took his season tally to 11 goals across all competitions and Sarri added: "Dybala is a top player. As every top player when they are becoming confident and having the right age, they are playing like a top player.

"I don't think a manager can teach something to a top player. Dybala is going to leave a mark in world and European football in the next years. He has got the right age to leave a mark and he's still got many years of his career. He is really confident in this moment after a few difficulties in the past."

Juventus made light of the absence of a sick Cristiano Ronaldo as their Argentinian connection dazzled in a 4-0 Coppa Italia win over Udinese.

The onset of sinusitis on Wednesday afternoon meant Ronaldo sat out this last-16 tie, but Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala put the game beyond Udinese before the hour mark.

And an outstading five-pass exchange between the Juve strike pair set the tone for the one-sided cup tie, with Higuain netting the 16th-minute opener.

Dybala slotted a penalty 10 minutes later, then struck a sublime third goal in the early stages of the second half.

The former Palermo man would have been on for a hat-trick had he taken the second penalty awarded to Juventus just after the hour. Instead, Douglas Costa took responsibility, safely finding the right corner.

If it had come as a blow to coach Maurizio Sarri to lose Ronaldo so close to kick-off, the former Chelsea boss would have been delighted by the response of his healthy players.

Lazio last year ended Juventus' run of four consecutive Coppa Italia triumphs, when a surprising 3-0 thumping by Atalanta in the quarter-finals concluded Juve's quest.

This time Juve will tackle Parma or Roma in the last eight.

Higuain gave Juventus the lead in style, trading a succession of passes with Dybala on the edge of the Udinese penalty area before being played through by his fellow Argentinian to fire into the left corner.

Udinese appealed for offside, but Higuain had timed his run perfectly and the striker's finish was emphatic.

Dybala stayed cool from the spot after Federico Bernardeschi was tripped by goalkeeper Nicolas, and it was looking like a long night for Udinese.

A VAR offside ruling denied Higuain, after he tucked home when Matthijs de Ligt's shot was parried out, but there was no doubt Juventus had a third when the ball next hit the back of the net.

Higuain fed his compatriot on the right corner of the penalty area, and although Nicolas got a touch to Dybala's shot, it arced in such a way that he had little hope of keeping it out.

Juventus were awarded their second penalty when Bram Nuytinck blocked Daniele Rugani's shot with his hands, and they were home and dry when Douglas Costa put the ball beyond Nicolas.

Cristiano Ronaldo was ruled out of Juventus' Coppa Italia clash with Udinese on Wednesday after falling ill.

Juventus announced the former Real Madrid forward would miss the last-16 match, dealing a blow to boss Maurizio Sarri ahead of kick-off.

The club issued a statement on Twitter that read: "Cristiano Ronaldo was struck by a bout of sinusitis this afternoon and will not be present at the Allianz Stadium for tonight's match."

The omens were still good for Juventus heading into the tie, with Sarri's men having won their past five matches against Udinese across all competitions.

Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala started in attack in the absence of the five-time Ballon d'Or winner.

Ronaldo began the new year with a hat-trick against Cagliari in Serie A, before his penalty on Sunday in a 2-1 win against Roma helped Juventus replace Inter at the top of the table.

Liverpool dominated the voting for UEFA's Champions League Team of the Year 2019, with five Reds players making the final XI alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Jurgen Klopp led Liverpool to their sixth European title in Madrid in June, with Mohamed Salah and Divock Origi on target in a 2-0 victory over Tottenham at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Virgil van Dijk was named man of the match and he features alongside Anfield defensive colleagues Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, as well as goalkeeper Alisson.

Sadio Mane is the other Liverpool player in the line-up, part of a front four completed by Messi, Ronaldo and Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski.

Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong earned blockbusting moves to Juventus and Barcelona respectively as they helped Ajax to last season's semi-finals and both make the select side, with the latter partnered in central midfield by Manchester City playmaker Kevin De Bruyne.

More than two million votes were cast to select the team via UEFA.com over the course of a six-week period.

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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