Messi challenges Ronaldo in race for Spain’s top scorer

Barcelona: After finding his scoring touch in Germany, Cristiano Ronaldo is ready to renew his scintillating duel with Lionel Messi in the Spanish league. Ronaldo ended a rare three-game slump without a goal to help Real Madrid win 2-0 at Schalke in the Champions League.

“It is clear that Cristiano Ronaldo lives to score goals,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “It’s never a problem for us when he doesn’t score for a couple of games. But he, of course, minds. I believe we are back on the right track.” Madrid leads Barcelona by one point in the league before visiting a modest Elche side on Sunday. Barcelona hosts Malaga on Saturday, three days before it travels to play Manchester City in the Champions League.

Not so long ago Ronaldo was running away with the Spanish league’s individual scoring title for the season. Through 15 matches, Ronaldo had already tallied the impressive haul of 25 goals, while Messi – his closest chaser – was far behind with 13. Since then, Messi has exploded and Ronaldo has struggled to keep up. Ronaldo still leads with 28 goals, but Messi has closed the gap and has 26. Counting all competitions, the two are fittingly locked on 37 goals in 34 appearances each.

Barcelona has made a remarkable turnaround for a team that seemed to be on the brink in early January following a loss at Real Sociedad that was quickly followed by the firing of its sports director, a call for early club elections and reports that coach Luis Enrique’s job was at risk. “Since (Real Sociedad) the team has changed its attitude,” Messi said. “We give more effort and go out onto the pitch in a different manner. Now we pressure to recover the ball like we didn’t do before. “We are playing very, very well. But we know that we still haven’t won anything yet and that these are the important months.”

Offering legitimate financial incentives in return for votes is Figo’s strategy to outdo Blatter and convince FIFA’s 209 members to back him in the vote in Zurich in May. Another is offering a seat on the executive committee for every country that has won the World Cup. Blatter, without even producing a manifesto, has already secured the backing of confederation heads of Asia, Africa, South America and Oceania who can influence their member associations but don’t have a vote themselves.

“There are obstacles that will have to be overcome,” acknowledged Figo, who played for Barcelona, Real Madrid and Inter Milan, before posing for the cameras with his manifesto. Europe is split, with Blatter’s three rivals all linked to Nyon-based UEFA. Michael van Praag is head of the Dutch federation, while both Figo and FIFA vice president Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan employ a London-based consultancy firm which also works for UEFA.

Is Figo just a puppet for UEFA President Michel Platini?

“If you follow my career in football you see that I am an independent person.” Figo is the only former player in the contest and is dipping into wealth accumulated while winning titles in Spain and Italy to fund the push for power. “Fortunately I had a successful career,” Figo said. “I have the (cash) balance to have the chance to be here right now and support my campaign.” In the cut and thrust of FIFA campaigns, the game itself can often be overlooked. Figo is proposing several changes to the rules. He wants trials for “sin bins” — removing players temporarily instead of dismissing them — for unsporting behaviour to referees, and to revert to the old rule where a player is offside regardless of whether they are directly involved in play.

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