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Alessandro Nesta has admitted that Lionel Messi “mentally destroyed” him when AC Milan met Barcelona in the Champions League back in 2012.
A World Cup winner with Italy in 2006, Nesta was one of the best defenders of his generation. He twice won the Champions League with the Rossoneri , in 2003 and 2007, while he also won Serie A, the Coppa Italia, the Supercoppa Italiana, the UEFA Super Cup and the Club World Cup during a decade at San Siro in which he made 326 appearances.
By the time he faced Messi, however, he was coming to the end of his career. Messi, meanwhile, was at the peak of his powers in the middle of a season in which he would end up with an incredible 73 goals in all competitions.
Milan played Barcelona four times in Europe in the 2011-12 season, twice in the group stage and twice in the quarter-finals. Having emerged from the group with a 2-2 draw and a 3-2 defeat to their names, Milan’s defenders had already conceded five goals against Pep Guardiola’s side by the time they met in the knockout rounds.
Lionel Messi scores from the spot against AC Milan in 2012
(Image: Getty Images)
Messi had only scored one of those, a penalty at San Siro. After a goalless quarter-final first leg in Milan, he made amends with a virtuoso performance at Camp Nou in which he won a spot kick from Luca Antonini – which he then converted – before scoring another late on.
Reminiscing about facing Messi, Nesta told Calciatori Brutti : “The thing that made me depressed is that he had left me behind ten times in ten minutes and I was starting to struggle at 37.
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“In the tenth minute I kicked Messi and fell to the ground exhausted, I could see the stars. He was already giving me his hand to pull me up. There he mentally destroyed me.
“Do you understand? I was on the ground and when after two seconds I open my eyes, I see his face with his hand in front and he wanted to help me get up. He mentally destroyed me there.”
Asked to weigh in on the age-old question of whether Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo was the world’s best in their heyday, Nesta added: “I played against both Ronaldo and Messi. The little one [Messi] is phenomenal.
“But the other scores 40 goals a year. They are both strong, each in their own way. I would prefer not to meet Messi between the two.”
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