Madrid (AFP) – Barcelona on Sunday followed the advice of coach Ronald Koeman and paid tribute to their former player Diego Maradona with an emphatic return to form in La Liga and a 4-0 victory over Osasuna.
Maradona, who played two seasons for Barca, died on Wednesday aged 60.
Before the match, the club played ‘The Song of the Birds’ by Catalan cellist Pablo Casals as the teams stood around the centre circle where a Maradona shirt was laid on the centre spot.
Lionel Messi, who has inherited Maradona’s legendary Argentina number 10 shirt, bowed his head.
Flags at the Camp Nou flew at half mast, Maradona’s image was displayed on every screen and digital advertising hoardings while a club official held a framed Maradona Barcelona shirt.
The Catalans have been struggling in La Liga and started the game 14th.
On Friday, Koeman said the best tribute his team could pay Maradona was to “show what we can do on the pitch”.
He recalled Messi and Frenkie de Jong, who were not in the squad for Tuesday’s 4-0 Champions League win at Dynamo Kiev, and also started Antoine Griezmann, who was on the bench in Ukraine.
Barcelona took the lead after 29 minutes when the ball lobbed into the net off Martin Braithwaite’s knee following a scramble in front of goal.
Messi seemed to be attempting a tribute to Maradona’s famous ‘Hand of God’ goal against England in 1986 as he leapt after the floating ball stretching his left arm toward it but the referee deemed he did not make contact.
It was Braithwaite’s first goal at the Camp Nou and followed the Denmark forward’s midweek strike in Kiev.
Griezmann scored with a powerful left-foot volley from outside the box in the 42nd minute.
The France World Cup winner then passed up a shooting chance in the 56th minute to roll a pass across the goal and set up a tap-in for Philippe Coutinho.
As Barcelona rediscovered their cutting edge, Ousmane Dembele had a strike ruled out for offside.
Messi got his goal in the 74th minute with a dazzling strike.
He picked up the ball in midfield, danced past two defenders and smashed a rising left-foot shot into the top far corner.
He celebrated by pulling off his Barcelona shirt to reveal a vintage Newell’s Old Boys jersey from Maradona’s one season with the club in Rosario, Argentina.
“It was a great moment,” said Koeman. “Leo’s goal, his gesture dedicated to Maradona.”
“It was something very big. We Europeans don’t realise how big Maradona is in Argentina.”
Earlier this week, Newell’s tweeted a photograph from Maradona’s debut showing a six-year-old local prodigy, in the same black and red shirt, doing ball tricks for the crowd at half-time. That boy was Messi.
Barcelona climbed to eighth, still nine points behind leaders Real Sociedad, who play later, and Atletico Madrid.
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