Lionel Messi is on a mission this year, perhaps his last best hope at international trophies at Barcelona and with Argentina. But Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, Liverpool and Ajax might end up having the last words.
On Tuesday, Tottenham Hotspurs will host Ajax in the first leg of their anticipated UEFA Champions League semifinals. Spurs are the favorites going in but it is hard to bet against the youthful Dutch team. Ajax has so far only defeated Real Madrid and Juventus at their opponents’ stadiums and previously drew 3-3 with Bayern Munich at the group stages. This is a fearless crew with destiny written all over it.
If Spurs do not play well above what has been their weight this season in the Premiership, where they are over 20 points behind the pace, count on Ajax to deliver the season’s big surprise and make it into the finals.
On Wednesday, Barcelona host Liverpool at the Camp Nou and Lionel Messi is primed to lead his La Liga Champions into battle in what is a must win match for his team. Liverpool will be playing at the upbeat rhythm of their last four matches, all wins, in which they outscored opponents 13-1, and will be complementing that offensive prowess with a Virgil van Dijk-led defense that will be zeroing in on Messi.
The Argentine, on the other hand, is focused on three legacy-cementing objectives this year—winning a domestic double in a year with a noticeable lack of competition, winning the Champions League, again in a year where all other big-name teams are out, and, finally, the big one, winning the Copa America, which is hosted by arch-rivals Brazil. With the hosts hoping Neymar, Coutinho and company will lead them to victory, Uruguay hoping Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, and Diego Godin will do likewise, and Chile betting on Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal to retain their trophy, Messi has his work cut out for himself.
Having never won a trophy with his national side, and trailing domestic arch-rivals, Real Madrid, in continental club hardware, Messi is pointedly having a banner year leading up to the coming clashes over the next three months. What he hopes for is winning three key trophies and setting himself up for a tie-breaking Ballon d’Or win. If he accomplishes that, he would then be poised to progress with easy-picking trophies at the end of this year in the FIFA Club World Cup and next year in the Spanish and European Super Cups.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, the first leg of the Spanish-English UEFA Champions League semifinals on Wednesday is the crucial one in this match-up, and if Liverpool can produce a positive result away count on them to derail Messi by putting on the needed home stand to set up a meet with Ajax in the finals.