Greatest Games: The day that Lionel Messi came of age at Barcelona

Lionel Messi Barcelona
Lionel Messi announced himself in one of the biggest games back in 2007
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Jason Pettigrove looks back on El Clasico from March 2007, the game in which Lionel Messi scored his first ever hat-trick.

"Lionel Messi had arrived. Even now, 13 years later, that game is still known as the ‘Messi Clasico’ and with good reason."

Barcelona 3-3 Real Madrid
La Liga 2006-07

It was a warm, sticky evening in Barcelona on March 10, 2007, and a completely nondescript Saturday aside from one reason. At 10:00pm that night, Lionel Messi would play in his first home Clasico.

It was to be only his 24th appearance at the Camp Nou in all competitions since his debut in the 2004/05 season. At just 19 years of age, the world was waking up to the mercurial genius that Barcelona had in their ranks, but this game was the one in which he made headlines across the world.

Barca began the match in second place, just behind leaders Sevilla, whilst Real Madrid were down in fourth. Frank Rijkaard began the game with a 3-4-3 formation, whilst Real's Fabio Capello set his stall out with an attacking 4-3-3.

As the teams made their way out onto the pitch, 97,823 fans raised the coloured pieces of paper that had been left on each and every seat, making a wonderful mosaic that covered the entirety of the stadium.

The strains of 'Tot el Camp,' Barca's hymn, blared out over the sound system, and behind the mosaic the Blaugrana choir joined in as one. It was spine-tingling and set the tone for what was destined to be one of the best Clasico's for years.

Real couldn't afford to lose

The stadium was still in full voice five minutes in, when a slip from Barca's Lillian Thuram saw the ball deflect to Ruud van Nistelrooy stationed in the D on the edge of the area. A neatly placed opener saw the visitors go one up and you could've heard a pin drop.

The difference in the decibel levels before and after the goal was remarkable. In a game that Real couldn't really afford to lose, it was just the start they needed, the Dutchman's 13th of the season unlucky for the Catalans.

Real-madrid-2007.jpg

The intensity with which both sides were approaching the game hadn't let up in the opening 10 minutes, with Samuel Eto'o bringing the best out of Iker Casillas in response to his side going a goal behind.

Some neat interplay a minute later between the Cameroonian, Deco and Ronaldinho bamboozled the Real defence, and by the time Messi received the ball on the right-hand-side of the area, there wasn't a Los Blancos defender within five yards of him.

The Argentinian was left with the simple task of slipping it past the on-rushing Casillas.

If the Camp Nou had had a roof, it would've been taken off. What can only be described as an animalistic 'Gooooooolllll' reverberated around the stadium for what seemed like an eternity.

No quarter being asked or given

The joy was short-lived, however, as Real were awarded a penalty within two minutes, Barca's Oleguer leaving a trailing leg for Guti to fall invitingly over.

A soft penalty it may have been, but it was the right decision from Undiano Mallenco, an experienced official who wasn't going to be swayed by Barca's protests or the defeaning boos and whistles from the stands.

Olegeur was handed a yellow for his trouble, which would prove to be crucial later in the game. Van Nistelrooy was calmness personified as he sent Victor Valdes the wrong way, and it was game on once more.

What made this game extra special was not just those three goals going in within 13 minutes of the first whistle, but it was clear that no quarter was being asked or given from either team.

They were just going for it, toe to toe like the Spanish gladiators they were. It was fantastic entertainment.

The game settled down to an extent, although both Ronaldinho and Eto'o were causing panic for the visitors every time they got the ball. Working down the left channel, it pulled Real across each time, leaving Messi isolated again on the right.

A roller coaster opening 45

They weren't learning their lesson and on 28 minutes it happened once more. When the ball fell to Leo 10 yards out and centrally positioned in front of goal, only Miguel Torres was between him and equalising for the second time.

This time, Messi smashed the ball into the roof of the net as Casillas, Guti and Sergio Ramos scrambled to get back and block, all to no avail.

A roller coaster opening 45 still had more twists and turns to come, with Messi, Ronaldinho and Higuain all going close.

Right on half-time, Oleguer was late on Fernando Gago, and with the official just a few feet away, a second yellow saw Barca reduced to 10. Curtains it would seem for the hosts.

Though the pace of the game slowed after the break, more than enough goalmouth action, and scuffles off of the ball, kept things interesting.

Robinho replaced Raul just after the hour mark, and 13 minutes later the Brazilian went down theatrically under a challenge from Rafa Marquez, but still won a free-kick out on the touchline.

Guti's delivery was inch-perfect for Sergio Ramos to guide a header home, and put Real into the lead for the third time in the match. It would be a long way back for Barca now, and the crowd sensed it.

The passion wasn't quite so intense, the noise not as loud, the acceptance of defeat despite there being 17 minutes left, almost total. Supporters even began to file out well before full-time, a decision they'd come to regret.

The pass of the match

As the clock ticked into four minutes of injury time, Capello's side still had their noses in front, but a lapse of concentration at the worst possible moment saw Barca grab a point.

Ronaldinho drew players to him as he wandered in-field, but with a packed pitch in front of him there was little to indicate he would pull off the pass of the match.

Threading a ball between five Real players, it landed at Messi's feet, though the Argentinian still had it all to do. His first touch took him away from three defenders, his second evaded a challenge, and his third was a low driven shot out of Casillas' reach as Ramos tried desperately to lunge and divert the shot away.

A first-ever career hat-trick. And against the eternal rival. Not bad for a 19-year-old! No wonder the chants of "Messi, Messi, Messi," accompanied by bowing from the stands, continued long after the goal was scored.

Lionel Messi had arrived. Even now, 13 years later, that game is still known as the 'Messi Clasico' and with good reason.

It was the birth of the pint-sized genius.

Jason Pettigrove,

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