Antonio Conte: Lionel Messi a player ‘born once every 50 years’

Argentinian scored twice to knock Chelsea out of Europe

Antonio Conte congratulates Lionel Messi after Barcelona’s win over Chelsea. Photograph: Susana Vera/Reuters

Antonio Conte congratulates Lionel Messi after Barcelona’s win over Chelsea. Photograph: Susana Vera/Reuters

 

Antonio Conte has praised Lionel Messi as the kind of talent who emerges only once every half-century after the Barcelona forward registered his 100th Champions League goal en route to eliminating Chelsea from the competition.

Messi, who had failed to score in his first eight appearances against the London club, hit three of Barça’s four goals over the two legs and set up Ousmane Dembélé for the other, the secondon Wednesday night, as La Liga’s champions-elect progressed into the quarter-finals.

Conte, having thanked his own players for their efforts, sought out the opposition forward at the final whistle to express admiration at his display as they departed the turf. “A fantastic player moved the final result, moved the qualification over the two legs,” the Italian said.

“I have to praise the commitment of my players, and be proud because they gave everything. But Messi made the difference and, when you have the opportunity to make a great compliment to Messi, it’s right to praise a super, super, super top player. A player who is able to score 60 goals in every season. Not only for one season. We are talking about an extraordinary player, the best in the world.

“He’s a player who can change the final result for any team he is playing in. But he started to play with Barcelona and, for sure, he will finish his career in Barcelona. Many teams can hope to have him in their team, but it won’t be possible. This is a great story for Barcelona and Messi. This type of player is born once every 50 years. We are talking about one single player with this capacity, with this ability, with these skills. He’s fantastic.”

Conte considered his own side unfortunate to depart the competition 4-1 on aggregate after striking the woodwork four times in the two legs, only to be undone by Messi’s brilliance. “They scored three times but I think we didn’t deserve this type of result,” he said.

“We were a bit unlucky because we created many chances to score. I think there was a penalty on Marcos Alonso [after a challenge from Gerard Piqué] at the start of the second half and, if you make it 2-1, you can put a bit of pressure on Barcelona. At the end, I repeat: I must be pleased with the commitment of my players. I saw great work from my players.”

There were reports from Chelsea supporters about being funnelled into cramped areas outside the stadium, and Spanish police using batons in the confusion which ensued, with the club intent on taking it up with the authorities and appealing for witness statements from those involved.

“We are aware of reports of incidents outside the ground before the game, where a number of Chelsea fans were hurt,” said a spokesman. “We ask that our supporters contact us with accounts of their experiences of this evening’s arrival at the stadium so that we can take this up properly with the authorities.”

(Guardian service)

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