Lionel Messi is arguably the greatest the game has ever seen and there have been quite a few examples of his genius. Yet, each time he tops himself and leaves fans gobsmacked. Those were the scenes at the Estadio Benito Villamarín – home of Real Betis – who became the latest victims of the Barcelona player.
Used to receiving adulation at the Nou Camp, Messi got a rapturous reception from rival supporters for a majestic hat-trick, his 51st, in Barca’s 4-1 win. Messi scored the first with an unstoppable free kick then combined with Luis Suarez to carve Betis open and score a second goal right before halftime.
The Argentine, however, saved his best goal for last, completing a victory which took Barca 10 points clear at the top of La Liga with a spectacular first-timed chip from the edge of the box after playing a one-two with Ivan Rakitic. Beaten goalkeeper Pau Lopez looked on in awe while the home supporters, renowned for devotion to their side, stood up, bowed to Messi and chanted his name.
— Farhaan (@Farhaan_bwfc1) 17 March 2019
Following the game, Messi said he couldn’t remember receiving applause from opposing fans before, but welcomed the gesture. “I don’t remember being applauded by rival fans for a goal before. I am very grateful for the response of the supporters,” he said.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) 17 March 2019
“I don’t know, I was lucky that both of them went in but above all we got the three points. We knew that we had a good opportunity to put a little distance between ourselves and Atlético and we couldn’t fail.”
“Even though the opposition concedes goals to Messi they can still enjoy this unbelievable era which he has created, they enjoy it too and today they recognised that,” said Barca coach Ernesto Valverde.
“It’s significant that they gave him this ovation, it’s an acknowledgement. Our rivals’ supporters have to suffer him but they also appreciate him, because of the player he is.
“Leo’s performance was extraordinary, he got three goals but he could have got four, that shows you how good he is.”
Betis coach Quique Setien commended the fans for their treatment of Messi while saying he felt honoured to be in the same era as the Argentine.
“I really like the fact that our supporters showed their appreciation for a great player, today he really made us suffer,” Setien said.
— Willie jnr (@AfolakeWilliams) 17 March 2019
“It’s only fair and it’s right to recognise this, our fans behaved in an extraordinary way and I’m very proud of them. I’ve seen some magnificent players do great things but no-one can match the things Messi has done over the last 12 years.
“It’s a privilege to have been able to start this era with him and see him in action every weekend.”