Lionel Messi had the last word in the battle of Europe's top domestic scorers, but after his late goal helped Argentina beat Portugal 2-1 he was quick to take the heat out of his latest head-to-head with Cristiano Ronaldo.
The FC Barcelona forward and his Real Madrid CF counterpart are neck and neck at the head of the ESM Golden Shoe rankings, with 24 Liga goals each as they enjoy prolific seasons. Ronaldo has scored 37 goals in 39 appearances for club and country this term, while Messi's 38 games have produced 42 goals.
When the duo met again in Geneva on Wednesday night, Ronaldo looked to have won their latest duel, cancelling out Ángel Di María's opener for Argentina, yet Messi had the final say. Having been a menace throughout, the 23-year-old was given an opportunity he could not refuse, converting his side's 90th-minute winner from the penalty spot.
However, while Europe's statisticians reached for their pencils and paper, Messi was adamant that he at least was not keeping score. "This wasn't a game between Barcelona and Real Madrid or between Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo," he said. "
We don't compete with each other to see who is the better player, we do so for the benefit of our teams."
Messi – who received a special gift from UEFA president Michel Platini this week – was clearly keen to have the chance to keep his golden streak going. "I asked to play the 90 minutes tonight and as I normally take penalties I did so again. I was asked to play more or less as I do at Barcelona, as a sort of a false No9, slightly behind the attack."
Messi has ten goals in his last six games in all competitions, while Ronaldo had gone four matches without a finding the target before registering twice in Madrid's 4-1 weekend victory over Real Sociedad de Fútbol. However, he stressed that he was not looking over his shoulder at Messi: "There is no individual competition."
Defeat was no dishonour for the 26-year-old, who said: "We have to emphasise the team's attitude. We have shown we are a great team, we played well and there is nothing to regret. We did well and we have to continue working. We left the pitch with our heads up." Ronaldo and Messi will resume their bid to equal or better the Spanish seasonal record of 38 Liga goals at the weekend, with Barcelona chasing a 17th successive top-flight victory.
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