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2007 Sportsman of the Year Sportsman of the Year Archive

Hail the new king

Lionel Messi is SI Latino's 2007 Sportsman of the Year

Posted: Friday December 7, 2007 11:02AM; Updated: Tuesday December 11, 2007 3:36PM
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Lionel Messi made good on his much-touted promise this year, scoring memorable goals by the boatload for Barcelona and Argentina.
Lionel Messi made good on his much-touted promise this year, scoring memorable goals by the boatload for Barcelona and Argentina.
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By John Carlin

Para leer en español, haga clic aquí.

All professional soccer players, except perhaps for goalkeepers, score at least one great goal during their career. The good strikers, if they're lucky, will score one that goes down in history.

The difference between them and 20-year-old Leo Messi is that he has his whole career ahead of him but has already scored three goals in 2007 that will endure as works of art to be admired in the museums of soccer 500 years from now, just like we admire Leonardo da Vinci today.

The first one was for Barcelona in March during the Spanish League derby against Real Madrid. It was the last minute of the game, and Barça, playing a man down, was losing 3-2. Messi got the ball outside the box. Madrid's attack and defense had retreated; its only objective now was to stop the equalizing goal.

With a lightning dribble to the left, Messi flew past one frozen opponent, left another one on the ground and penetrated the area. He still had to beat Sergio Ramos, the best Spanish defender, and Iker Casillas, the best keeper in the world. Messi sped past Ramos, who also fell to the pitch, and put a left-footed cross into the corner of the goal, just inside the far post. Casillas had no chance.

It all happened in the blink of an eye: Messi's third goal of the match, the equalizer that instantly made him, to the millions of fans following the game on TV, one of their favorite players in the world to watch.

That was the first course, light and tasty. The main dish, the following month, was pure protein, a juicy steak from the Pampas. It was the goal, that goal against Getafe in the Copa del Rey; the one that mimicked nearly step by step the best goal of all time: Diego Maradona's second score against England in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

There's no sense in describing it, since anybody who hasn't seen it would not be reading these lines. Suffice to say that Messi received the ball at midfield on the right flank and dribbled past the whole Getafe defense, including the keeper. Another goal seen around the planet. Twenty times.

And the third, dessert, was the one he scored for Argentina against Mexico in the Copa América semifinals in July. This one only needed two touches, the first one in order to control the ball while sprinting to the edge of the Mexican area; the second one, still in full speed, a sublime chip.

The whole stadium, including Mexican goalie Oswaldo Sánchez and defender Johnny Magallón, was expecting a low line shot or a pass down the middle to Carlos Tévez. Instead, Messi tapped the ball with the tip of his left cleat, lifting the ball in a geometrically perfect arch that grazed the crossbar before going into the net. It was pure instinct, pure genius. The connection between Messi's brain and his left foot -- at the moment his legs reached their full stride -- was a hymn to the marvelous complexity of human biology.

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