Football: Messi humbled by Betis fans' cheers

Real Betis defenders could not stop Lionel Messi from his scrumptious hat-trick in a 4-1 win, leaving Barcelona 10 points clear atop LaLiga.
Real Betis defenders could not stop Lionel Messi from his scrumptious hat-trick in a 4-1 win, leaving Barcelona 10 points clear atop LaLiga.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEVILLE • After his fourth hat-trick of the season and the 51st of his career, pundit Gary Lineker took to social media to claim that "there are great players, all-time great players, and then there is Lionel Messi".

The Real Betis fans were of the same opinion after seeing their side blown off the park 4-1 in LaLiga by a vintage Barcelona side, with the Argentinian talisman at the heart of everything on Sunday.

Messi was so mesmerising at the Estadio Benito Villamarin - a simple finish was sandwiched between another free-kick special and an arcing lob - that the home crowd gave him a standing ovation, before bowing and chanting his name.

The 31-year-old was humbled by the rapturous reception, telling reporters post-game: "I don't remember the opposition cheering me for a goal, I am very grateful.

"Every time we come to this stadium, they treat us really well. Very grateful and happy for the win, which was very important."

His coach Ernesto Valverde claimed it "was an acknowledgement of the player he is".

The Spaniard said: "Even though the opposition concedes goals to Messi, they can still enjoy this unbelievable era which he has created, they enjoy it too and today, they recognised that.

"It's significant that they gave him this ovation. Our rivals' supporters have to suffer him but they also appreciate him."

The victory moved Barcelona 10 points clear of nearest challengers Atletico Madrid with 10 games left to play and Messi was delighted the Spanish champions seized the "opportunity to increase the gap".

The forward, who now has 39 goals in all competitions this term, added: "We had to take it tonight. The title is in our own hands but nothing has been decided yet.

"Worse things have happened before. We have a great advantage, but there are many points still to play for."

The only blot on the night was the sight of Luis Suarez, who scored Barcelona's other goal, limping off late on, with what Valverde said was a "bad sprain" to his ankle.

However, fears that the Uruguay striker could miss the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final against Manchester United on April 10 were allayed after the club yesterday confirmed he would be "sidelined for 10 to 15 days".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 19, 2019, with the headline 'Messi humbled by Betis fans' cheers'. Print Edition | Subscribe