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Speaking of Messi, Ronaldinho and Blatter

August 7, 2008 |  3:53 pm

Juan Riquelme, left, celebrates after Lionel Messi (second from left) scored a goal against Ivory Coast on Thursday.

The race between Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Brazil’s Ronaldinho for a soccer gold medal completed its first lap on Thursday with Messi holding a definite advantage.

Meanwhile, in the race for the most ludicrous comment made at the Beijing Olympics, Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, the president of FIFA, took a sizeable early lead.

First, Messi.

Just hours after his Spanish club team, FC Barcelona, said it would allow him to compete in the Games despite a ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport that said Barcelona had every right to recall him from China, Messi scored one goal and created another as Argentina edged the Ivory Coast, 2-1, in Shanghai.

Barcelona backed off completely on its insistence that Messi, 21, abandon his Olympic dream and return to play for it in a European Champions League qualifying series next week.

“The best thing is for him to enjoy ... the Games and come back happy,” said Barcelona Coach Pep Guardiola.

RonaldinhoRonaldinho, meanwhile, had a much less influential role as Brazil overcame Belgium, 1-0, in Shenyang on a goal by Hernanes.

Two Brazilian players, Rafinha and Diego, who also had been threatened with being yanked from the Olympics by their German clubs, played and will remain in China after the clubs relented.

That was not enough to soothe Blatter’s ruffled feathers. The 72-year-old Swiss, an International Olympic Committee member, huffed and puffed angrily about the CAS ruling, going to so far as to say it threatened to undermine the entire Olympic soccer tournament.

“If all the national squads lose players, if clubs force them to return home, we will simply not have an Olympic football tournament here in Beijing,” he said.

“We could do beach soccer or a five-a-side tournament. That would be very sad and the world would not understand it.”

What the world fails to understand is how, despite one inane remark after another, Blatter manages to hold onto power.

This is the same man, remember, who once suggested that female players wear hot pants to make their game more attractive, and who only recently called Cristiano Ronaldo a “slave” because his $250,000-a-week contract won’t let him leave Manchester United to join Real Madrid.

Blatter claims, of course, that he was misquoted.

-- Grahame L. Jones

Photo: Argentina's Juan Riquelme, left, celebrates after Lionel Messi scored a goal against Ivory Coast during a first round Olympic soccer match at Shanghai Stadium on Thursday. Argentina defeated Ivory Coast 2-1. Credit: Liu Jin / AFP / Getty Images