Brilliant Dybala stakes his claim as Messi's heir apparent

Juventus forward Paulo Dybala (No. 21) celebrating his 7th-minute opener with winger Juan Cuadrado. Dybala capped off a stellar night with a brace against Barcelona, leaving the LaLiga giants teetering on the brink of a Champions League quarter-final
Juventus forward Paulo Dybala (No. 21) celebrating his 7th-minute opener with winger Juan Cuadrado. Dybala capped off a stellar night with a brace against Barcelona, leaving the LaLiga giants teetering on the brink of a Champions League quarter-final exit.PHOTO: REUTERS

TURIN • Paulo Dybala said his two-goal performance against Barcelona was the sort of night he had dreamed about since he used to play on the bumpy pitches of the Argentinian second division as a slightly built teenager.

The 23-year-old is arguably the most exciting player to have come out of Argentina since Lionel Messi, and managed to upstage the five-time World Player of the Year as he led Juventus to an emphatic 3-0 first-leg win in the Champions League quarter-final.

"I am very happy because as a child I wanted to live these moments, and today I have succeeded in that," said Dybala.

"We are all in a very positive moment with a lot of confidence, and that's important to go forward, and achieve our objectives."

Juventus' seventh-minute opener was a work of simplicity finished off by a Dybala masterstroke.

Juan Cuadrado, from the right flank, set up Dybala, who turned and curled a left-footed shot inside the far post, beyond the outstretched hand of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

In the 22nd minute, Dybala met Mario Mandzukic's ball in from the left to sweep a first-time shot inside Ter Stegen's near post to make it 2-0.

Such finishing will only add to the comparisons with Messi. His team-mate for club and country, Gonzalo Higuain, has already said he is "looking like Messi".

Arrigo Sacchi, the former AC Milan manager, drew the same parallel. At least Argentina great Diego Maradona stopped short of joining the acclaim, simply suggesting Dybala is a "phenomenon".

Yet there are similarities between Dybala and Messi, not least their diminutive stature, speed and trickery.

There is an uncanny coincidence too: both players were sent off on their Argentinian debuts - Messi in a friendly against Hungary in 2005 and Dybala in a World Cup qualifier against Uruguay last September.

Dybala, however, has made a slower start to his career. He began playing professionally as a 17-year-old at Cordoba club Insituto in the Argentinian second tier, the same age at which Messi was already with Barcelona.

He then moved to Serie A side Palermo and joined Juventus at the start of last season.

The player known as "The Jewel" has tried to play down comparisons between the two.

"People need to understand that I am Paulo Dybala, and that's who I want to continue to be," he said before the match. "I understand the comparisons, but I do not want to be the new Messi."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2017, with the headline 'Brilliant Dybala stakes his claim as Messi's heir apparent'. Print Edition | Subscribe