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The shortlist for the Ballon d'Or was released earlier this week, generating absolutely no surprise whatsoever. Twenty-three names may have been included on the initial sheet, but when these are whittled down to three next month, the only matter of minor interest will be who is going to come third.
Both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo led their teams to midweek Champions League triumphs and both, in doing so, smashed a couple more records each as they continue to rewrite the history books. Messi aimed a very poignant set of fingers at the television cameras while effortlessly breaching Mallorca's back line on his way to a hat-trick this past weekend -- the criticism he received after a three-game drought neatly brushed aside with a three-goal haul. If the temptation to raise just one finger to his detractors had crossed Messi's mind, doing it in 17 minutes will have sufficed.
In the 4-0 win over Viktoria Plsen on Tuesday, the Argentinean dynamo scored his 13th Barcelona hat-trick to take his tally to 202 in 286 games for the club, 33 shy of the all-time record of 235 held by César Rodriguez in all competitions. The Spanish forward achieved that mark in 17 seasons while Messi has played just more than six. "Messi will break this record, sooner or later, and don't be surprised if he does it this year," said Pep Guardiola, who himself oversaw his 200th game in charge of the team in Prague. "It all depends on how we play. If he achieves it, at 24 years old, that says it all. You really can't add much else."
Ronaldo, though, is determined to have the final word and reached his own astounding landmark in Stade Gerland on Wednesday. Real Madrid had never won at the home of Olympique Lyonnais and only broke its hoodoo of never having beaten the French side at all when Jose Mourinho engineered a win last season. However, all the plaudits were reserved for Ronaldo after he scored both goals in a 2-0 victory to take his tally for the team to 100 in 103 matches. After the match, the Portuguese was keen to avoid the inevitable probing: "We don't want to compare ourselves to Barça at the moment. We are very clear which way our path lies," said the No. 7, probably with the first Clasico next month in mind.
The match also cemented Mourinho's own place in Real folklore. In 75 official matches he has racked up the best win-loss ratio in the club's history: 56 victories, 11 ties and eight losses, one fewer than Miguel Munoz, although Mourinho has some way to go before equaling his predecessor's nine Liga titles.
At the other end of the field, Victor Valdes completed nine full games without scooping the ball from his net, bettering the club record held by Miguel Reina by going 877 minutes unbeaten. "He lent shine to the record with a great stop in the opening minutes. You have to congratulate him," said Guardiola.
Apparently FIFA and France Football do not agree -- Valdes does not feature on the list for the Ballon d'Or with the goalkeeping fraternity represented solely by Iker Casillas, who made a string of fine saves in Lyon to ensure victory.
With both sides through to the last 16, it was down to Valencia and Villarreal to attempt to embellish Spanish representation in the latter stages.
Unai Emery's team took a bold step toward the knock-out stages with a 3-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen, its first in the competition. A loss would have sounded the death knell for the 2000 and 2001 runners-up, and Genk's battling 1-1 tie with Chelsea did Valencia no harm at all. Jonas almost scored the quickest goal in Champions League history, but was a few hundredths of a second behind Roy Makaay, who stunned Real with a strike on 10:12 in 2007. With Genk up next and one of Bayer or Chelsea to drop points in the same round of fixtures, it could all go down to the wire for Valencia at Stamford Bridge in December.
Rounding off a week of records is Villarreal, which confirmed its worst ever showing in the Champions League after slumping to a 3-0 loss against Manchester City. Played four, lost four, one scored and nine conceded will not have made pleasant reading for Villarreal supremo Fernando Roig, who warned coach Juan Carlos Garrido after a 3-0 loss to Real that his patience was finite. In fairness, Garrido was forced to play B team striker Juanlu having been shorn of all of his first team strikers through injury but in what is shaping up to be a campaign to forget a couple of wins, a couple of favors and qualification for the Europa League ahead of Napoli might be the minimum requirement for the beleaguered coach to keep his job.