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Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez stir penalty pot

Published : Feb 19, 2016, 10:36 pm IST
Updated : Feb 19, 2016, 10:36 pm IST

A penalty kick usually involves a kicker and a ’keeper. Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez made it two versus one in a La Liga match against Celta Vigo at Camp Nou last week.

Lionel Messi
 Lionel Messi

A penalty kick usually involves a kicker and a ’keeper. Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez made it two versus one in a La Liga match against Celta Vigo at Camp Nou last week. And, the Barcelona duo also succeeded in their mission. Predictably, a social media storm ensued. A simple game became a morality play.

Instead of trying to blast the ball into the back of the net from the tiny spot 12 yards away from goal, Messi squared it to his right with a deft touch of his left foot and the onrushing Suarez finished the job past a bemused Celta goalie. All hell broke loose online. Barcelona manager Luis Enrique, who had also worked as Celta manager, hit the nail on the head with his reaction to the penalty. “Some people may like it and some may not. The penalty is legal and we play football to entertain people,” he said.

The Camp Nou crowd loved the combo effort and Celta players weren’t complaining either. Barcelona’s 3-1 lead before the penalty emboldened the duo. Would Messi and Suarez do it against Real Madrid or in the final of the Champions League Anything is possible for the current Barcelona team. Who knows, the method of involving more than one player in taking a penalty could become a surprise weapon in crunch situations, especially against a goalkeeper who is good at saving spot-kicks.

Dutch legend Johan Cruyff, also an icon at the Catalan club following his splendid stints as player and manager, set the template for the audacious or disrespectful act of Messi and Suarez. In a Dutch league match in 1982, Ajax’s Cruyff passed the ball to a teammate and got it back to smack it home. Robert Pires and Thierry Henry of Arsenal attempted something similar in an EPL match against Manchester City in 2005 only to botch it up to become the butt of all jokes.

The routine is fraught with danger because lack of chemistry between the penalty taker and his ‘partner in crime’ can make them look stupid. Henry and Pires showed the world how it should not be done. Enrique is right. Football is football because people enjoy watching it. Even though winning is the ultimate goal in any competitive football match, a dummy here and a shimmy there and a step-over sandwiched between the two makes it a compelling spectacle. Just imagine a match shorn of all the tricks that are integral to the game of Messi. There are people who criticise Neymar for the Brazilian’s excessive dribbling. One day they might say bicycle kicks and back heels are disrespectful actions.

The attacking triumvirate of Messi, Suarez and Neymar are possibly the best in the history of the game. Let us savour them as long as they remain intact.