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Mar 8, 2012

Messi hailed as 'greatest ever'

A host of top players and pundits have hailed Barcelona star Lionel Messi as the greatest player of all-time after he became the first player to score five goals in a Champions League game in the 7-1 thrashing of Bayer Leverkusen.

• Guardiola gushes over Messi

Messi, 24, has scored 288 goals in 311 games for Barcelona and the two-time FIFA Ballon D'Or winner bagged his eighth hat-trick of the season.

The Argentinian is now joint in sixth place with Alfredo Di Stefano on the list of the European Cup/Champions League's all-time top scorers and many have claimed that he is now above the likes of Pele and Diego Maradona in the 'world's greatest player' debate.

Indeed, the tributes came pouring in after the game, with team-mate Cesc Fabregas saying: "You can expect anything from Leo. He is the best player in history, we have never seen anyone like him. He didn't play at the weekend and he wanted to do well. He enjoys being on the pitch and we are happy to have him.''

"Messi is a joke. For me the best ever," wrote Manchester United and England star Wayne Rooney on Twitter.

Manager Pep Guardiola gushed over his talisman after the game and claimed he could get even better.

"I'm lucky to coach and manage this player," the Barca boss said. "He is the best. There's no-one else. He is a unique player because of his innate talent and also for his competitiveness. We will not see another player like Messi. It's not easy to score five goals, and one day he will score six."

Asked to compare Messi to legends like Johan Cruyff, Alfredo Di Stefano, Diego Maradona and Pele, Guardiola said: "The throne is his. Only he will decide when to leave it."

While Tottenham defender Sebastien Bassong, on loan at Wolves, saw the funny side of the striker's feat, as he tweeted: " Messi has scored more goals in 1 game than me in my whole professional life!hahahahahahaha! #not human."

Messi, though, was quick to play down his own role to concentrate on the bigger picture.

He said: ''The most important thing tonight is that all these goals we scored take us one step closer to winning the Champions League, which is our objective. We went out there wanting to ensure qualification for the quarter-finals and we achieved that.

''I have always said that it's fantastic when things come off for you and you play well, but only if you meet your aims for the match. That's what happened against Leverkusen. The team played very, very well, the performance had some beautiful moments and we scored lots of goals.''

The five goals, plus the recent hat-trick for Argentina against Switzerland, means Messi has scored 14 goals in his last five games for club and country.

''It's all about enjoying the moment - from how it went with Argentina the other week to how it's going right now for my club,'' he added on UEFA's website.

''The sweetest part of it, for me, is that the team continues its run of form at the moment, winning games in style; that's the way to go as far as we can in the Champions League.

''As for the draws for the next rounds, I don't care which opponents we end up facing or when. Any club which has reached this stage is only here because it has done its work very well, and whoever we draw are going to be tough opposition.''

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