'Penalty of the century' dazzles yet divides

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi stunning the crowd when he side-footed his penalty kick to his right, for Luis Suarez (right) to charge into the box and fire past a shocked Celta Vigo goalkeeper Sergio Alvarez. This completed the Uruguayan’s hat-trick a
Barcelona’s Lionel Messi stunning the crowd when he side-footed his penalty kick to his right, for Luis Suarez (right) to charge into the box and fire past a shocked Celta Vigo goalkeeper Sergio Alvarez. This completed the Uruguayan’s hat-trick and put Barca 4-1 up. They eventually won 6-1. PHOTO: REUTERS

BARCELONA • Lionel Messi passed up the chance to net his 300th La Liga goal and instead put a hat-trick on a plate for team-mate Luis Suarez, with an outrageous penalty routine that evoked memories of Barcelona great Johan Cruyff on Sunday.

With Barcelona leading Celta Vigo 3-1 at the Nou Camp, Messi stepped forward in the 81st minute to take the spot kick which he won. But he stunned the crowd by tapping the ball to the side for Suarez, who raced into the box and fired past bewildered goalkeeper Sergio Alvarez.

Messi and Suarez wheeled away in glee and were quickly mobbed by their team-mates, who looked as surprised as anyone. The goal took Suarez onto 23 in the league this season, two ahead of Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo. Barcelona finished the match 6-1 winners.

Messi, who has missed 17 of 83 penalties in his career, opened the scoring with a free kick while Ivan Rakitic and Neymar got the other goals.

Spanish sports daily AS quickly christened the spot-kick move as the "penalty of the century".

Yet, some sections of the Spanish media also claimed Barca's creativity boarded on a lack of respect for their opponents. Other observers felt that the goal should not have stood as replays suggested that Suarez may have encroached into the penalty area before the kick.

Barcelona manager Luis Enrique rejected suggestions the penalty was intended to embarrass the opposition and said he had seen his attacking trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar produce moments of magic in training.

"There will be those who like it and those who don't," he told reporters. "As well as winning titles, here we try to entertain people and win in a spectacular and sporting manner.

"You can take a penalty like that, it's legal and there's a Cruyff penalty we all know."

Dutch great Cruyff pulled off a similar trick while playing for Ajax against Helmond Sport in 1982, squaring the ball for team-mate Jesper Olsen, who then passed it back to him to score. Cruyff played for Barcelona from 1973 to 1978.

Frenchmen Robert Pires and Thierry Henry tried a similar trick for Arsenal against Manchester City in 2005 but got into a muddle and failed to score.

Enrique added there was nothing arrogant about Messi's penalty and said there was a tendency in Spain to look down on moments of skill.

"What we have to do is enjoy our football, respect our opponents, try to show we're better through football," he said. "I'm sorry but I don't think anything special happened. I'm used to seeing them train and there they are even better."

Neymar also suggested that the rehearsals took place to set the stage for him to be the scorer.

"It was designed for me, we had practised it, but Luis was closer," Neymar told Barca TV. "It doesn't matter, he scored so it worked well.

"The forwards are very generous. We love each other a lot and that friendship is the most important thing, no matter who scores the goals."

The victory saw Barca move three points clear at the top of La Liga on 57 points, with a game in hand.

Second-placed Atletico made sure they did not lose further ground on the leaders, as Fernando Torres' 101st goal for the club gave them a 1-0 win at Getafe.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2016, with the headline ''Penalty of the century' dazzles yet divides'. Print Edition | Subscribe