Barcelona hailed Lionel Messi as “The King” and he handed Chelsea the royal punishment by scoring twice to reach 100 Champions League goals and end their quarter-final hopes.
After unfurling a banner showing the words “God Save The King” before kick-off, Barca’s fans were celebrating after just 129 seconds at the Camp Nou as Messi found the net before Chelsea had even made a pass.
He then teed up Ousmane Dembele to double Barca’s lead in the second leg of the last-16 clash before registering a century of Champions League goals on his 123rd appearance to complete a 3-0 victory, 4-1 on aggregate.
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Messi becomes only the second player to reach the milestone in Europe’s premier tournament, following Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, who has 117 goals in 152 games.
“He knows in certain moments the stars have to come out,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. “We enjoy him. We’re lucky enough to be seeing something that will go down in history.”
By the end, the Argentinian’s scintillating breakaway in the build-up to Dembele’s first Barcelona goal had become little more than a footnote to what was another Messi masterclass.
“I think that a fantastic player moved the final result,” Chelsea manager Antonio Conte said. “In these two legs, he scored three goals, he made an assist for Dembele to score a goal. It’s a pity.”
It also caps a remarkable five days for the 30-year-old, who sat out Saturday’s La Liga win over Malaga to attend to the birth of his third child.
Chelsea, in touch after the 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge, were therefore unfortunate enough to encounter the striker fresh, free and at his frighteningly brilliant best.
At the finish, Conte left the field with his arm around the forward, perhaps with nothing to add but congratulations.
“I think when you have the opportunity to make great compliment to Messi, I think it’s right,” Conte added. “It’s right to recognise a super, super, super top player.”
Conte’s team had chances, particularly in the first half, but the sense was once Barcelona were in front they were content to sit back and counter.
Chelsea hit the woodwork twice and claimed for a penalty when Alonso was brought down by Gerard Pique.
“If you watch the game you can see the final result is unfair,” Conte said. “Over the two legs we hit the post four times. This is very strange.”
With Manchester United dumped out by Sevilla and Tottenham outmanouevred by Juventus, Chelsea’s exit means for all the talk of a Premier League resurgence, Liverpool and Manchester City are its only two representatives in the quarter-finals.
Spain have three, after Real saw off the challenge of Paris Saint-Germain.
Andres Iniesta shook off a hamstring strain to start while Dembele was a surprise inclusion, preferred to Paulinho and rewarded for his excellent display against Malaga.
Conte, meanwhile, plumped for Olivier Giroud up front ahead of both Alvaro Morata, who was on the bench, and Eden Hazard, who was granted his wish to play deeper in attacking midfield.
Within three minutes, however, Chelse’s plan to frustrate was spoiled. Messi started the move and finished it, with Dembele, Luis Suarez and a deflection off Alonso, helping him find the space to fire through the legs of Thibaut Courtois for the fastest goal of his career.
Dembele’s second came after Cesc Fabregas failed to secure possession in midfield and Messi was away, skipping past a desperate lunge from Andreas Christensen, before taking the whole stadium by surprise by squaring to the back post. Dembele took one touch and slammed the ball into the top corner.
Any hopes Chelsea had of a comeback were extinguishe shortly after the hour-mark. Suarez raced through midfield but looked to have hit a wall on the edge of Chelsea’s box.
Messi took over, tearing past the rooted Moses and banging the ball, again through the legs of Courtois, into the net.
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Ghana draws African-American tourists with ‘Year of Return
US preacher Roxanne Caleb blinked away the tears as she emerged from a pitch-dark dungeon where African slaves were once held before being shipped across the Atlantic to America.
“I wasn’t prepared for this. I’m heartbroken,” she told AFP as she toured the Cape Coast slave fort on Ghana’s ocean shore.
“My mind still can’t wrap around the fact that a human being can treat another worse than a rat.”
Caleb is among the African-American visitors flocking to Ghana as it marks the “Year of Return” to remember the 400th anniversary of the first slave ship landing in Virginia.
The West African nation is banking on the commemorations to give a major boost to the number of tourist arrivals as it encourages the descendants of slaves to “come home”.
Cape Coast Castle, 150 kilometres (90 miles) from the capital Accra, is a major magnet for those visiting
The white-washed fort lined with cannons was one of dozens of prisons studding the Atlantic coast where slaves were held before their journey to the New World.
A string of prominent African-Americans have headed to the site this year to mark the anniversary since the first slave landing in 1619.
Among them was a delegation of Congressional Black Caucus led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that toured last month.
– ‘Can’t forget history’ –
For those visiting it is an emotional rite of passage.
“This has been understanding my history and my roots where I came from,” Caleb said.
“I am very thankful I came here as part of the Year of Return.”
Sampson Nii Addy, a corrections officer with the Montgomery police department in Alabama, said he and his family had found the tour an “education”.
“I think every black person needs to come around to learn history; how people were treated,” the 52-year-old told AFP.
“We can’t forget history but we can always learn something from it.”
Ghana, one of the continent’s most stable democracies, has long pitched itself as a destination for African-Americans to explore their heritage and even settle permanently.
In 2009 President Barack Obama visited with his family and paid homage at the Cape Coast Castle.
The “Year of Return” has added fresh impetus and the country is hoping it will increase visitor numbers from 350,000 in 2018 to 500,000 this year, including 45,000 African-Americans.
Kojo Keelson has spent nine years guiding tour groups around the Cape Coast Castle and says 2019 has seen a surge in interest as Ghana looks to rake in tourism revenue of $925 million (830 million euros).
“It’s like a pilgrimage. This year we’ve a lot more African-Americans coming through than the previous year,” he told AFP.
“I’m urging all of them to come home and experience and reconnect to the motherland.”
– ‘Love to come again’ –
Akwasi Awua Ababio, the official coordinating “Year of Return” events, pointed to high hotel occupancy rates as he said “enthusiasm is very high and we’ve got huge numbers coming from the US and Caribbean”.
He insisted that beyond the major economic boost, Ghana was also looking to use the new connections it is forging to convince the descendants of slaves to resettle for good and help the country develop.
“Human resource is always an asset and we need to see how we can welcome them home to utilise their expertise and networks,” the director for diaspora affairs at the presidency said.
The African American Association of Ghana brings together those who have moved to West Africa and offers help to integrate them into their new surroundings.
President Gail Nikoi praised the “Year of Return” initiative by Ghanaian leader Nana Akufo-Addo and said the country was “setting the stage for future engagements and involvement of African-Americans and other Africans from the diaspora in the development of this country.”
But she said the authorities could still be doing more to help attract arrivals and convince them to stay.
“Dialogue and engagement is the first step,” she said.
While most of those visiting Cape Coast were not thinking about settling back permanently — they said the trip had opened their eyes to both their own history and what Ghana has to offer.
“It has broadened my horizons about how we came to be here and what our ancestors went through,” said William Shaw, 57, from Montgomery.
“I would love to come again. There is a lot more to see here in Ghana… at least once in a year I’d advise African-Americans to come back to their native land and learn about their history.”
Iran displays domestically built mobile missile defense system
Iran displayed what it described as a domestically built long-range, surface-to-air missile air defense system on Thursday, at a time of rising tension with the United States.
Iran shot down a U.S. military surveillance drone in the Gulf with a surface-to-air missile in June. It says the drone was over its territory, but the United States says it was in international airspace.
State television showed President Hassan Rouhani attending an unveiling ceremony for the mobile Bavar-373 system, which Iranian media have described as a competitor to the Russian S-300 missile system.
“With this long-range air defense system, we can detect … targets or planes at more than 300 km (190 miles), lock it at about 250 km, and destroy it at 200 km,” Defence Minister Amir Hatami told state television.
The system’s unveiling came on Iran’s National Defence Industry Day. Iran has developed a large domestic arms industry in the face of international sanctions and embargoes that have barred it from importing many weapons.
Western military analysts say Iran often exaggerates its weapons capabilities, though concerns about its long-range ballistic missile program contributed to Washington last year leaving the pact that Iran sealed with world powers in 2015 to rein in its nuclear ambitions in exchange for an easing of economic sanctions.
On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned at a U.N. Security Council meeting that, under the Iran nuclear deal, a United Nations arms embargo on Iran was due to expire in October 2020.
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