Football round-up: Comeback is just the trick for 400-goal Lionel Messi

Tributes for Argentine playmaker whose goals lift Barcelona to second in the Spanish Primera Liga table. Plus more news from the world of football.
Barcelona's Lionel Messi was unmatched against Espanyol on Sunday night. Lluis Gene / AFP
Barcelona's Lionel Messi was unmatched against Espanyol on Sunday night. Lluis Gene / AFP

BARCELONA // Lionel Messi scored three times to reach the 400-goal mark for Barcelona and spark his team’s 5-1 victory over Espanyol in the Catalan capital derby on Sunday night, keeping the winners second in the Spanish Primera Liga.

Messi matched Cristiano Ronaldo’s three-goal performance in Real Madrid’s win the day before to ensure that Barcelona stayed within two points of their fierce rivals at the top of the table. It was Messi’s third hat-trick in two weeks, having also netted thrice against Sevilla in the league and at the Cypriot side Apoel Nicosia in the Uefa Champions League.

Sergio Garcia put Espanyol in front in the 13th minute in a good first half for the visitors, but Messi curled home the equaliser in injury time before the break to change the flow of the game.

Messi fired in his second in the 50th and added a third after Gerard Pique and substitute Pedro Rodriguez had scored during a second half completely dominated by Barcelona.

“Messi is a football legend,” Espanyol coach Sergio Gonzalez said.

“We were the better side in the first half, but Leo’s goal was a tough blow. We couldn’t forget it and 15 bad minutes cost us the game.”

Already Barcelona’s all-time top scorer, Messi’s goals were his 400th, 401st and 402nd for the club, including friendlies. They took his league tally for this season to 13 goals, far behind Ronaldo’s runaway total of 23.

“There’s no words to describe Messi,” Pique said.

“He’s given us so much that I genuinely think it’s not possible to say everything that he’s done for us.

“It was a difficult game. We were much improved in the second half. We fixed our mistakes and what we now have to do is continue like this.”

After a start to the season when Messi stood out for his playmaking, he is again scoring goals in bunches.

His scoring burst comes with Portuguese star Ronaldo also in spectacular form and both star forwards named as finalists along with Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer for the Ballon d’Or award, which Ronaldo won last year. The winner will be announced on January 12.

“Leo’s first goal was the key,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said.

“I don’t know if he and Cristiano feed off one another. Our interest is that he gives us all he can and is involved in every facet, scoring, assisting and even in defence.

“Until the first goal, the game was at a slow tempo, which is what we are used to as rivals, just pack the defence.

“When we conceded, the doubts came and we couldn’t find an end product to our play. The key came with the goal before the break and then after that it was all a lot easier.”

North Korea coach suspended for a year

North Korea coach Yun Jong-su was banned for a year as a result of a furious rant he launched at the Asian Games in October, severely denting the team’s preparations for next month’s Asian Cup.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) threw the book at Yun after he heaped abuse at match officials following North Korea’s 1-0 loss to bitter rivals and home team South Korea in the Asian Games final at Incheon.

The confederation cited “offensive behaviour” in suspending him from all AFC competitions for 12 months.

The AFC said Yun will be permitted to register as a team official and attend training sessions, but he has been banned from the dressing room and the area surrounding the field of play.

Asia’s governing body also suspended North Korea player Kim Yong-il for six months for misconduct. He was shown a red card at the end of the tempestuous final, which South Korea won with virtually the last kick of extra time.

North Korea have been drawn alongside China, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan in Group B at the Asian Cup in Australia, which takes place from January 9 to 31.

Yun raged at officials after defender Rim Chang-woo had smashed home the last-gasp winner, shaking his fists and barking “it’s not fair” as he stormed off the pitch, while some of his players wept uncontrollably.

Replays suggested the only infringement in the build-up to the goal had been a handball by a North Korea defender.

Yun continued his rant afterward, accusing the referee of favouring the home side with his decisions in a game played 120 miles from the world’s most- fortified border.

Napoli draw at home

Napoli rallied from two goals down to rescue a 2-2 draw at home against Empoli on Sunday, while Genoa beat AC Milan 1-0 to leapfrog Rafa Benitez’s Napoli into the third spot in Serie A. Simone Verdi and Daniele Rugani gave Empoli a comfortable lead, but two goals in five minutes from Duvan Zapata and substitute Jonathan De Guzman saw Napoli recover. “The character that the team showed in the second half is positive,” Benitez said. “But I am not happy, because I wanted to see this attitude from the first minute. It’s a bad result. Drawing at home is always bad.” Former Milan defender Luca Antonelli scored the only goal of the game in Genoa to send the home side third, two points above Napoli. “This third spot is deserved, we are really happy with our results at the moment, we didn’t expect it,” Antonelli said. “Our aim remains to secure the 40 points for safety as soon as possible, even if it is great to wake up, look at the table and find yourself in this position.”

Wanderers dispute

Asian Champions League winners Western Sydney Wanderers left for the Club World Cup in Morocco, but their players are reportedly involved in a dispute with the A-League club over payments for the Fifa-sanctioned tournament. Reports said the dispute comes from the club’s offer to pay players a 10 per cent share of the minimum US$1million (Dh3.67m) the Wanderers received for qualifying for the tournament. A spokesman for the Professional Footballers’ Association said the players departed Australia as a “sign of good faith” and hoped further negotiations would take place. Western Sydney has not won a match this year in the A-League after nine games – it has three draws and six losses and sits in last place.

Parma beaten

Parma are on the verge of being sold, club director Pietro Leonardi said, with reports the Serie A strugglers will soon be in the hands of Russian-Cypriot owners. Debt-riddled Parma, owned by club president Tommaso Ghirardi, are currently bottom of Italy’s top flight with 11 losses in 13 games. Leonardi told Sky Sport: “We were informed this morning by the president that the talks over the sale of the club had intensified. The players in the dressing room are wondering who the new owner is. We’ve been informed, but we’re waiting for everything to become official. All the stakeholders are satisfied with the terms of the agreement deal.” Reports claim Parma will soon be in the hands of Russian-Cypriot owners, who will buy the club for €5m (Dh22.5m) and take on all their debts. Lazio piled further misery on Parma with a 2-1 win at the Stadio Ennio Tardini that left Roberto Donadoni’s side rooted to the bottom of the Serie A table. Raffaele Palladino put the hosts ahead in the 45th minute, but Parma’s joy was shortlived as Lazio’s Stefano Mauri equalised seconds before half time.

Hamburg get a lift

Hamburg moved out of the Bundesliga’s bottom three with a comfortable 2-1 win over a Mainz side who have now gone six games without a win. Cleber and Rafael van der Vaart scored a goal in each half, but it could have been more for Josef Zinnbauer’s side, who reduced the deficit on their opponents to just a single point. Shinji Okazaki grabbed a late consolation for Mainz, but there was no more than that in the game for Kasper Hjulmand’s men. Hamburg’s third win in a row at home lifted them back above Borussia Dortmund and two points clear of the relegation zone.

sports@thenational.ae

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Published: December 7, 2014 04:00 AM

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