Messi injury overshadows Barça win
Star to miss Real "classic"; Eto'o returns in style to dominate free-falling Valencia.
17 December 2007
MADRID - The good news for Barcelona Saturday night at Valencia was the definitive and successful return of Samuel Eto'o. The fiery Cameroonian forward, after months of riding the recuperation bench, scored two of Barcelona's three goals in its 0-3 win over a dismal Valencia. Added to last week's Champions League goal, his two-game, three-goal tally has served to assuage any doubts whether a successful comeback would be difficult after such a long absence.
The bad news: Leo Messi's thigh injury will bench the forward for at least a month and cause him to miss the "classic" Camp Nou match-up against Real Madrid on Sunday, scene of his spectacular hat-trick last season.
While Messi does not single-handedly carry Barcelona's offensive line, he is an extremely dangerous force with the uncanny ability to throw off the opposition's defence; more so than any other player. While defenders pack right to contain his masterful dodging and bursts of speed, they run the risk of leaving others in Barça's legendary front line unmarked, and of course, of the embarrassment of being beaten despite the double- or triple-teaming.
Hence, the Messi dilemma has been the biggest news item in Barça's locker room, despite having racked up a win, and a definitive one at that. Midfielder Yaya Touré called it "very negative." Eto'o said "it's a dirty trick to lose the best player we have right now," while coach Frank Rijkaard called it "a pity for the player and the team."
When Barcelona hosts Real, it will have to exercise its other offensive options. With Messi and Thierry Henry hurt, the weight will undoubtedly be shared between a recuperated Eto'o and offensive midfielder Eidur Gudjohnsen, a welcome attacking force who scored Barça's third goal on Saturday, and perhaps a combination of youngsters.
Ronaldinho's fate still hangs precariously in his coach's hands. Although overlooked on Saturday, with Rijkaard opting for youngsters Giovani dos Santos and Bojan Krkic, the Brazilian has been given more minutes at home. And Madrid, barring any surprises Sunday night, will face its Catalan rival bench bursting and free of injuries.
The good news for Valencia on Saturday night: unsurprisingly little. Recently booted from the Champions League short, even, of the UEFA Cup booby-prize, it couldn't step up to the plate for the game with the biggest morale test of the season. In coach Ronald Koeman’s eight games at Valencia, he has chalked up only one win, although he did manage to beat one record: Valencia's 580 consecutive minutes without scoring a goal surpassed its former dry-spell record from 40 years ago.
Villarreal broke its losing spell thanks to Turkish forward Nihat Kahveçi's two goals, which helped lift the fourth-placed team over Getafe 1-3 on Sunday.
Other results: Espanyol 1-0 Levante; Valladolid 0-0 Sevilla; Betis 3-1 Almería; Deportivo 1-1 Zaragoza; Mallorca 0-0 Athletic; Murcia 2-1 Racing; Recreativo 0-0 Atlético Madrid
[Copyright EL PAÍS, SL./ KELLY RAMUNDO 2007]
Subject: Spanish news