The TV and radio stations in Barcelona this morning focused on the bizarre coincidence that Barca win matches 4-0 whenever there’s a papal enclave.
In 1958, the club put eternal rivals Real Madrid to the sword by four goals to nil when the Catholic Church’s hierarchy met to elect Pope John XXIII.
Twenty years later, Las Palmes were taken out 4-0 during the election of Pope John Paul II, who, of course, was a socio (member) of Barcelona and a keen goalkeeper in his day.
On Tuesday night, the divine intervention came from Leo Messi, who scored twice in the first half, including an artful smash into the top corner with the deftest of pull-backs in the fifth minute, to settle frayed nerves at Camp Nou.
The little Argentinian adorned the cover of all four of Spain’s daily newspapers. AS, in Madrid, ran with the word ‘Remontada!’ (Comeback!) across its front page, a headline normally reserved for Real Madrid’s exploits, the club having become famous for epic turnarounds in the late-1970s and 80s.
And the Madrid paper heaped praise on one man in particular: “Leo, hero again. Messi responded to those who doubted him with a brilliant performance. The most important game of the season came around and Leo Messi did not fail. He had a bad night at the San Siro ... like the rest of his team-mates, but last night, with the whole team fired up, Messi was decisive.”
Barcelona’s comeback was the first time in Champions League history that a club has overturned a two-goal deficit without an away goal. El Mundo Deportivo, one of Barcelona’s sports newspapers, gushed in Catalan, a language which is closer to French than Spanish, for its headline: “What a night!”
There was an urgency to Barcelona’s play, epitomised by the pressing and tackling of David Villa (mysteriously out of favour at the club for so long) that had been missing over the last month, a period which included three costly defeats to Milan and Real Madrid (twice). Even the ball boys were notably sharp in recycling balls to continue the play.
Villa got the crucial third goal, while Barcelona mustered enough energy to see out the night with a fourth goal in injury time after a sweeping counter attack.
In the press conference afterwards, embattled caretaker coach Jordi Roura dwelled on his team’s competitiveness, on their “voracious appetite”, given they’ve already won so much, 14 trophies in the last four years alone.
More good news came when Carles Rexach, the advisor to the club’s president, who said that Tito Vilanova, who is in New York received treatment for throat cancer, should return to the city on March 25, giving him plenty of time to get back in the groove before a possible Champions League final at Wembley in May.
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