4. Bale vs Inter Milan It was with this game that Gareth Bale announced himself to the European elite. 2010 has arguably been the most significant year in Bale’s career thus far. He started the year as a failed left back and ended it as one of football’s brightest attacking prospects. In his road from shame to glory, his twin performances against Inter Milan – the then European champions – were devastatingly brilliant. If anything, it is hard to choose one performance over the other. But if pushed, I would have to go for his performance in Tottenham’s 3-1 victory at White Hart Lane. He may not have scored a hat-trick this time, in fact he didn’t score at all. But as a total package, his performance in this game was slightly superior. Lest anyone forget, Maicon was not only Brazil’s current right back (over Dani Alves), but he was widely considered the best right back in the business. Yet, the jet legged winger treated the defender with as much reverence as one would give a training cone. It didn’t matter whether Bale went inside or outside Maicon because the latter had no response. By the end of the game the Brazilian wore a haunted look that suggested his reputation had been left in tatters. It was almost a game of two fates. Bale proving he was ready for greater things and Maicon proving he would never be the same.
3. Messi vs Real Madrid When Lionel Messi retires and the platitudes come rolling in, there will be a lot made of the records he broke and set. There will be a lot made of his trophy haul, both individual and team. There will undoubtedly be talk of how he didn’t win a World Cup. However, his performances for Barcelona in their Champions’ League winning campaigns are the stuff of legend. His 2010 quarter final pillaging of Arsenal. His five goal haul against Bayer Leverkusen in 2012. His flawless performance against Mourinho’s Chelsea in 2006 – as a 19 year old, no less. But if there was ever a performance to tell the grandkids about it is his semi-final performance against Real Madrid in 2011. In a tightly contested affair with the old enemy, Messi settled the tie with an unforgettable performance. Mourinho’s Real Madrid almost succeeded in stymying the Barcelona attack. But when Messi escaped the clutches of his markers to tap in Afellay’s cross late on, there was very little the hosts could do to respond. Unfortunately for them, there was more to come. When Busquets rolled a pass to Messi near the halfway line, there did not seem to be any route to Casillas’ goal. But in a matter of seconds, Messi jinked his way past 5 Madrid players before showing remarkable composure in sliding the ball past Casillas with his weaker foot. With that goal, Messi essentially sealed Barcelona’s passage to a Wembley final. There isn’t a lot more to note when thinking of the Argentine’s impact on Barcelona in the Champions’ League. The facts are that before Messi, Barcelona had won one Champions’ League. Since Messi came through, they’ve won four. Enough said.
Gbemi Aderemi (Guest Contributor)