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Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Messi praised for match-winning performance

Lionel Messi was showered with praise from team-mates and opponents after putting Barcelona within touching distance of a place in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals with a virtuoso performance against Atletico Madrid.

Messi scored all three of his side's goals and constantly terrorised the Atletico defence during the 3-1 first-leg win at the Vicente Calderon before receiving a standing ovation when he was substituted 10 minutes from time.

The spectators were not the only ones to make known their admiration for the Argentinian ace either, with players from both teams heaping plaudits on the 21-year-old.

Barca midfielder Andres Iniesta, who was made captain for the match with the likes of Carles Puyol, Xavi and Victor Valdes rested, said: "Everything is easier with Messi playing, he had a great game."

Those thoughts were echoed by Barca full-back Dani Alves, who linked up superbly with Messi down the right-hand side.

"To play next to a footballer with the ability and quality of Messi always makes the game more easy," he said.

Atletico defender Tomas Ujfalusi also revealed himself to be a fan of the South American superstar, saying: "He made the difference in the game. Right now he is the best player in the world."

Rojiblancos coach Javier Aguirre added: "He's an extraordinary player, as much with the ball as without it. He can cause problems even with one or two defenders marking him, and on top of that he can also score goals. He's a very complete player."

Regarding the tie itself, Atletico now face a huge task if they are to continue in the competition, not least because on their last visit to the Nou Camp they suffered a 6-1 league mauling at the hands of Pep Guardiola's side back in October.

Atletico striker Diego Forlan is not giving up the ghost though, and while he admits it is a long shot, he believes they still have a chance in next week's return leg.

"There are 90 minutes remaining and we are professionals. It is difficult to overcome this 3-1 deficit, but whilst there is life there is hope," he said.

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