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Messi wins duel vs. Ronaldo in CL final

LIONEL Messi didn't use his usual scoring method - a deft touch from his quick feet - to settle the debate over whether he or Cristiano Ronaldo deserves to be called the world's best player.

Instead, the Barcelona forward settled it with his head.

Messi's 70th-minute header helped Barcelona to a 2-0 Champions League final win over Manchester United yesterday, a victory that puts Barcelona in exclusive company as only the fifth European club to win three major trophies in a season, and the first Spanish team to do so.

"This is the most important victory of my life," Messi said.

The 21-year-old Argentina forward guided Xavi Hernandez's cross home to show he doesn't always need a soft touch to score.

As Messi celebrated his competition-best ninth goal - and 38th in total this season - Ronaldo could only look upward after failing to track back and cover Xavi, who moved alone into space to provide the cross.

"Even if we had lost I wouldn't have changed my opinion about him," coach Pep Guardiola said. "Lionel Messi is the best player in the world, absolutely. I think right now he is adding his name to the Golden Ball."

All eyes had been on the Ronaldo vs. Messi matchup in this final after the Portugal winger edged Messi for both the FIFA world player of the year and Golden Ball award last season by winning three trophies to Messi's zero.

"No, the game was between Manchester and Barcelona, it wasn't a duel between anyone in particular," Ronaldo said.

A historic season for Barcelona is likely to be enough to see Messi dethrone King Cristiano.

"When the tough gets going, he really gets going," Guardiola said. "He never disappears, he's always there."

Guardiola said that last year's semifinals loss to Man United led him to make a tactical change with Messi just as he did for the 6-2 trouncing of Real Madrid this month.

"I saw last year that Leo Messi had little problems with (defender Patrice) Evra and so I decided to take him out of the right side and put him in the middle," Guardiola said. "Messi, with Xavi and (Andres) Inestia, I tried to have one more man in the midfield."

Messi was instrumental in much of Barcelona's play, just as he was in helping the club secure the Spanish league title with a record points haul and a 25th Copa del Rey trophy.

Ronaldo started better but, as Barcelona took control, the 24-year-old Portugal international - known for gallant strides and stepover dribbles - exemplified his loud personality with a number of frustrating fouls, including a booking in the 78th minute.

"We lost a goal in the first minutes and after it was going to be difficult, but that's football," Ronaldo said. "Barcelona controlled the game and deserved to win."

Although United didn't defends its European trophy, Ronaldo has still the English Premier League, League Cup and Club World Cup triumphs to enjoy this season.

"I'm sure I'm going to play more finals," he said as consolation.


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