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What If He Can't Play? Can Barça Handle PSG Without Messi?

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Insult is injury's favorite companion, so it just makes sense that after losing Lionel Messi with a hamstring injury at the end of the first half of the Champions League quarterfinal game with Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona got jobbed in the City of Lights by a crook referee who allowed Ibrahimovic's tying goal at 1-1 although the Swede was in an offside position visible from another planet. There's no way an honest ref can miss an offside so clear, there's no way a linesman who knows what's right and what's wrong in life doesn't wave the flag until it wakes his boss up and justice is made. The fact that other goals were scored after this crime doesn't make it more tolerable, but Barça has no recourse. The iniquity has become official history.

For any other team a 2-2 on Ibra's turf is a good result. For Barcelona, which still could have won if not for a last second gaffe by nutty goalkeeper Victor Valdes (who otherwise had a good game), this is not satisfactory, considering the price it had to pay. Early reports indicated that Messi suffered a biceps femoral tear on his right leg, and although the club's web site indicates that he would undergo more evaluating tests on Wednesday in Barcelona, the Spanish media state the Argentine will miss three weeks. Unfortunately, the return game against PSG is at the Camp Nou next week, Wednesday, April 10.

Messi gave Barça a 1-0 lead with a perfectly timed left-footer following a great pass from Dani Alves. He almost added a second when his powerful shot from just outside the area barely missed the upper right corner of Sirugu's goal. That's when he felt the pain in his right hamstring. He went to the sideline, conferred with coach Tito Vilanova--on his first game back with the team after more than two months of cancer treatment in New York--and stayed on the field until the end of the first half, but remained on the bench when the second half began.

Messi has been incredibly durable throughout his career and Barça fans hope that he would be able to play and the team won't have to prove it can advance to the CL semifinals without its jewel. As good as this team has been for the last five years, with Messi, it is a risky proposition to find out if it's good enough to eliminate PSG without him. Especially now, when it has only one central defender (Piqué) after Mascherano tore a ligament in his knee and will be out six weeks, and Puyol is still out after knee surgery.

If Messi can play the second leg Barcelona will advance. If Messi can't play, Barça becomes Spain plus Alexis (not necessarily a plus, despite admirable willingness) and Tello, hotter than Villa and Pedro (if he comes back from injury) right now. The question is--who can score for Barcelona?, because, knowing the defense is depleted and unreliable, this game for sure won't end 0-0. Think that Ibra would like to show the Camp Nou crowd what Barça had and rejected? A loss at home now would be an unimaginable disaster, league title or not. Barça faithful, play for Lionel's hamstring!

Vladimir Moraru played soccer for 15 years and has watched it for 60. He hasn't seen a player like Messi and a team like FC Barcelona.

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