Soccer: Messi scare a reminder of Argentine's key role
By Iain Rogers
MADRID (Reuters) - When Lionel Messi was taken off on a stretcher with what looked like a serious knee injury on Wednesday it was a jolting reminder, if one were needed, of just how crucial the Argentine forward is to Barcelona's fortunes.
Thankfully for fans of the La Liga club and those who enjoy watching the Argentine World Player of the Year weave his magic, tests quickly ruled out anything worse than bruising, sustained in a collision with Benfica goalkeeper Artur near the end of the Champions League Group G game.
The prolific 25-year-old may be available for undefeated Barca's match at Real Betis on Sunday (2000 GMT) and if he plays he will have a chance to add to the 21 goals he has scored in 14 La Liga matches this season.
That represents almost half the club's total of 48 and has helped them win all but one of their matches and put them six clear of Atletico Madrid on 40 points at the top of the table.
He netted 50 of Barca's 114 La Liga goals last term and 31 of 95 during the 2010-11 campaign and he has been top scorer in the Champions League the past four seasons, when Barca twice won the title.
It is hard to imagine them without Messi, who last missed a game through injury in September 2010 after a crunching tackle from Atletico defender Tomas Ujfalusi damaged an ankle.
Favourite to secure a fourth consecutive World Player award when the winner is announced next month, he is involved in virtually every attack and typically the only thing on the minds of his team mates when they are going forward is to try to get the ball to him.
Barca were already through to the last 16 of Europe's elite club competition as group winners and coach Tito Vilanova was asked after the Benfica game why he had brought Messi off the bench for the final half an hour instead of resting him. Continued...