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Robben v Messi (Ronaldo who?)


Have you heard of this kid from Argentina?  He’s about 2.3 feet tall, runs like a man possessed and scores goals for fun.  His name is Lionel Messi and he will be crowned the best player in the world.  There is no player in world football today that can compare with the creativity and skill posessed by this soft-spoken marvel.

And how about this fellow from Bedum of the Low Countries (that would be the Netherlands).  He’s a bit cocky, has a peculiar gait and looks to be about 45 years old.  He has single-handedly kept Bayern Munich’s season alive.  Throughout Spain, France, England and Italy there is no team that has relied on a solitary player the way Bayern have depended on him in Germany. 

Rewind a year: the Champions League Final in Rome.  Manchester United v. Barcelona also known as Ronaldo v. Messi.  The Handsome Star v. The Reluctant Hero.  At the end of 90 minutes Ronaldo’s star had faded and Messi had scored a sumptuous header to kill the game off.  Three months later Ronaldo had unpacked his undoubtedly expensive luggage in Madrid and these two marvelous players faced off in the same league.  Many people predicted an exciting and enthralling season.  And for those fans of Barcelona and Real Madrid it has been since they have been able to watch their clubs win almost constantly for 9 months.  No fewer than 24 point separate 2nd place Madrid and 3rd place Valencia.  Yet Real Madrid have not fulfilled their potential this season.  With all their galaxy of stars they have not matched the panache of the Catalans.  Ronaldo has been shunted to the side of the world stage. 

Robben: No longer playing second fiddle to Messi

Consider Bayern Munich complete with Arjen Robben.  They have built unstoppable momentum as the season has progressed and few people believe they will lose their nerve.  In the past week they annihilated Hannover 7-0 with the talismanic Robben netting a terrible treble.  Skip ahead to Wednesday and Robben again found his range in the Champions League against Lyon.  Lyon for all their endeavour had no answer for the devastating combination of Robben and Lahm on the right hand side.  Cissohko laboured admirably but by marking Robben he provided space for the indefatiguable Lahm.  Toulalan was harshly awarded a second yellow but the first after tackling Robben was testamant to the skill and speed of thought which Robben possesses.  The best Toulalan could muster was a desperate challenge that arrived about a week late.

Ronaldo will be attempting to haul back Barcelona and will have eyes on South Africa.  Both Robben and Messi have a dometic title in sight as well as the possibility of a Champions League final ahead; Barcelona with it all to do in the second leg though.  Each can feel some optimism ahead of the World Cup finals too.  Argentina lack cohesion and organization but possess quality in the extreme.  The Dutch have a settled and talented side with all the main-stays enjoying solid performances on a weekly basis.

Euro 2004 provided the first grand stage for Arjen Robben.  Most who can recall the Oranje’s exit from that competition can also pinpoint the moment when Dick Advocaat signed his own pink slip.  With the Dutch leading 2-1 he withdrew Robben and replaced him with Paul Bosvelt.  They went on to lose 2-3 which cost them top spot in the group and gave them Portugal who they ultimately lost to.  Robben has had a start/stop career since that time blighted with many injuries.  He has managed to win everywhere he’s been but only now at Bayern has he taken hold of the spotlight with both hands and firmly placed it on himself.

Each is faced with a potentially life changing spring.  Robben has come on too late in the season to oust Messi from his world player of the year crown but Robben may have the last laugh though depending on the success he can muster from his sizzling left boot.

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