Lionel Messi’s talent and fame is comparable only to that of Kobe Bryant. He is often considered the best soccer player in the world and for good reason — he has won a record number of European Golden Shoes (an award presented seasonally to the leading goalscorer in matches across the top division of every major European league), four Union of European Football Association Champions League titles, six Ballon d’Or (the most prestigious individual award for soccer players) and countless other titles and awards. Messi’s magic was most evident during the 2017 game between his team, Barcelona, and Real Madrid, in which he scored the tie-breaking point and his 500th career goal.
Games between the two fierce rivals are referred to as El Clasico and, at 400 million viewers, garner three times the audience of the Super Bowl. If the competition between the two top teams in the world wasn’t enough to ensure that soccer fans tune in, the rivalry between the prolific players, Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, was.
El Clasico 2017 was a particularly intense game because of the high stakes. Both teams were among the top contenders for the first seed in La Liga, the Spanish league title race. The game would either serve as a benefit or a detriment to Real Madrid — who had a chance to win the league title for the first time since 2012 — or give Barcelona its third straight La Liga trophy.
Although Barcelona was coming off a win at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, the team got off to a poor start from the beginning. Defensive midfielder Carlos Henrique Casimiro scored the first goal for Real Madrid half an hour into the game. Messi countered five minutes after with his own goal, tying the game until Barcelona scored again at the 73rd minute. The teams tied again during the 85th minute, effectively keeping the cheering fans on the edge of their seats. It wasn’t until the last minute of the game that Messi scored his 500th career goal and won the game for Barcelona, despite playing with a bloodied mouth after being rammed in the face by left back Marcelo Vieira.
This game wasn’t just a dramatic win between two of the most powerful soccer teams in the world — it broke award records and personal records for the player, cementing his status as the best of the best in soccer. That same year, Javier Mascherano said of his teammate that he was “indispensable… Leo is a unique player. We’re talking about the best player in history, for this club and for the sport.” At the end of El Clasico, Messi removed his jersey and held it up proudly in front of the opposing side, sending a message: I am victorious. Since then, Messi has continued to earn awards and break records, but his 2017 victory remains as one of the most memorable moments in soccer history.