On this day 15 years ago, Lionel Messi scored one of his most iconic goals on one of Barcelona’s most painful days as Catalan rivals Espanyol spoiled their title chances on an evening of drama
Lionel Messi has faced similarities with Diego Maradona throughout his career due to his playing style, nationality and ability to perform at a level above the rest of the elite.
Yet Maradona’s most famous goal was his ‘Hand of God’ effort against England at the 1986 World Cup, when he punched the ball past Three Lions goalkeeper Peter Shilton in one of sport’s most iconic moments. 21 years later, Messi scored in similar fashion in one of the most dramatic days in La Liga.
Going into the penultimate round of matches, the title could go either to Barcelona, Real Madrid or Sevilla. Madrid led the way by virtue of their superior head-to-head record, but everything hung in the balance as Los Blancos faced a tough trip to Real Zaragoza as Barca hosted Catalan rivals Espanyol, with Sevilla away at Real Mallorca.
It was to be a day of unparalleled drama; Raul Tamudo gave Espanyol a shock lead at Camp Nou before Diego Militao netted from the penalty spot for Zaragoza against Real Madrid. Both teams were in danger of throwing away the title – Sevilla, beset by multiple injuries and fatigue, were still being held at Mallorca.
Four minutes before half-time, Barca equalized. In a time before VAR, these were the sort of moments of huge injustice which would go relatively unchecked. A typically flowing Barca move culminated in Xavi Hernandez’s low delivery from the right which deflected off an Espanyol defender and into the path of Messi to guide the ball past visiting goalkeeper Carlos Kameni.
Despite Messi moving his head towards the ball, replays definitively showed that he used his hand to touch the ball into the net and beat Kameni’s arm, which had been set to punch the ball away. It sparked furious protests from Espanyol, but to no avail.
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The similarities to Maradona did not stop there as, just as Diego had done against England, Messi was to score a second goal in the game – on the hour mark. By that stage, Ruud van Nistelrooy had equalized for Real Madrid in Zaragoza before Militao restored the home side’s advantage. In Mallorca, Sevilla were still being held.
Barca were going three points clear at the top of the standings going into the final day of the season, when they would play already-relegated Gimnastic. The title was going to be Barca’s and Real Madrid needed two goals to spark a dramatic turnaround. Van Nistelrooy got his second of the game in the 89 th minute to level things up at Zaragoza, at 10.47pm, but they still trailed Barca by two points.
Yet by the time Real Madrid had finished their short celebrations and they ran back to the halfway line to restart the match, their traveling fans let out an even bigger cheer as the scoreline flashed up on the Romareda scoreboard: Barcelona 2-2 ESPANYOL – Raul Tamudo, ’90. Espanyol had improbably equalized at the death, 18 seconds after Real Madrid had also gone to 2-2.
In Mallorca, Sevilla could not find a goal – they were out of the title race. And so too were Barcelona – a final day 5-1 win at Gimnastic was academic as Real Madrid beat Mallorca 3-1 to scoop the title. Had Barca not been stunned by their local rivals and subsequently thrown away the title, the ‘Hand of Messi’ may still be a much bigger part of football folklore.