Messi wows crowd as Barca crush K-League stars

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Messi wows crowd as Barca crush K-League stars

The good news for local football fans: Lionel Messi made a brief appearance Wednesday night for Barca against the K-League All-Stars, providing the crowd gathered at Seoul World Cup Stadium with a chance to see one of the sport’s greatest players.

The bad news: he scored two goals, helping the Spanish side crush the Korean team 5-2. And he did it in just 16 minutes on the field.

Despite announcements to the contrary earlier this week, Messi made his preseason debut at the match, playing in his first game since the 2010 World Cup.

Messi entered in the 29th minute to loud applause from the 32,581 in attendance. He only played until halftime but still managed to make a huge impact, scoring consecutive goals in the 42nd and 45th minute.

It took K-League officials and the sports marketing firm in charge of organizing the event a considerable amount of effort to provide local football fans with even that short glimpse of the Argentine star.

“If the World Cup had not been held recently, Messi would have received more playing time,” Barca manager Pep Guardiola said at a post-game press conference. “Messi is coming off a month-long vacation after the World Cup. He participated in just one practice. The decision to play Messi was out of respect for the Korean fans. I ask for Korean football fans to be understanding about the situation.”

With members of the Spanish national football team recuperating from their physically demanding title-winning run in the 2010 World Cup, Messi - who played with Argentina in the tournament this summer - was the biggest name to make the trip to Korea for the friendly match, which was held to commemorate the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Spain and Korea.

Local fans welcomed his arrival, as it somewhat offset their disappointment that a large number of Spanish national team members did not make the trip with Barca.

But Guardiola said on Tuesday that Messi would not play due to fears that he would incur an injury. The decision was overturned the following day after Barcelona officials were reminded of a clause in the contract that required Messi to play a minimum of 30 minutes in the game. Messi still only played about half of the time stipulated in the contract, so Barcelona officials had to return 200,000 euros ($263,114) in guaranteed money to the organizers.

Jeonbuk Motors manager Choi Kang-hee, who led the K-League All-Stars squad, was not pleased with how the local media and fans focused more on the Spanish players than the Korean team.

“It’s meant to be a game in which K-League fans cheer for their favorite players,” Choi said. “From the moment the match was organized, all the attention shifted towards Barcelona.”

Dressed in turquoise-colored uniforms, Barca players looked sluggish out of the gate and gave up a goal to Choi Sung-guk one minute into the match. Zlatan Ibrahimovic responded with an equalizer in the sixth minute. Lee Dong-gook pulled the All-Stars ahead in the 35th minute, but Messi connected on two quick goals to put his team up for good.


By Jason Kim [jason@joongang.co.kr]
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