WEMBLEY, England (AP) — In a team of World Cup winners and European champions, Lionel Messi is still the superstar.
The Argentina playmaker may never win the international honors garnered by countryman Diego Maradona and Barcelona teammates Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, but it was his talent that lit up Saturday's Champions League final win over Manchester United.
The two-time world player of the year scored one goal and set up another in a 3-1 win that proved beyond all doubt that the diminutive striker deserves a place among football's greats.
Barcelona's coach Pep Guardiola says Messi is "the best player I have seen and probably the best I will ever see."
Messi, who earned man-of-the-match honors, tormented United defenders throughout the match with darting runs and sensational dribbling skills. He scored when the match was deadlocked at 1-1, finding the tiniest of spaces between the central defenders to slam a shot past Edwin van der Sar.
It was Messi's 53rd of the season and his 12th in the Champions League. The goal was also notable because it was the first time Messi had scored on English soil.
He followed his goal by setting up David Villa for Barcelona's third after a feint and run allowed the Spain striker to curl a shot into the top corner.
Messi's talent is undeniable but it is to Barcelona's credit, and especially that of coach Guardiola, that the club has built a platform on which Messi can perform.
Daniel Alves' work from right-back means that Messi does not have to be too concerned with what is happening defensively out on that wing, while the pair dovetail in attack — Messi pulling infield to leave space for the Brazilian to run into.
Likewise, Sergio Busquets does a lot of the harrying and chasing in midfield so that Messi does not have to. All the Argentine does is pick the ball from the toe of his teammate and concentrate on hurting opposition defenders.
I'm very happy about the match," Messi said. "We were the better team. We deserved to win. My next challenge is the Copa America."
The problem for Argentina is that Daniel Alves is Brazilian and Busquets is Spanish. They can't be called upon to support Messi at a World Cup.
"I hope he doesn't get fed up and I hope he will continue being at his ease and being at the club with the players around him," Guardiola said. "When he doesn't play well, it's because something is wrong with his environment, with his surroundings.
"So let's hope that everything continues to go well in his personal life and that the club is intelligent to put together the kind of team he needs to have around him."
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