By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Editor
The comparisons are constant, the debate ceaseless. But there is now little left to support the theory that Lionel Messi isn't the finest footballer on the planet. The astonishing Argentine is the main man in the best Barcelona side of all time, has been mentioned in the same breath as the game's greatest players and has just claimed his third successive Ballon d'Or.
Messi, then, is better than all of his contemporaries and, at the moment at least, a finer footballer than Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo. Except, that is, when it comes to taking penalties.
Messi missed from the spot for the seventh time in his career on Wednesday at Mestalla, when Valencia's Diego Alves dived to his left to repel the Argentine's effort in the sides' 1-1 draw. That's two this term over which the 24-year-old has erred and, in total, his conversion rate in all competitions is a rather mediocre 74 per cent.
Cristiano, by comparison, is virtually flawless from 12 yards out. The Portuguese has missed just one penalty since moving to Madrid in the summer of 2009. And that, too, was saved - coincidentally - by the brilliant Diego Alves, who has kept out an incredible 11 of 19 at Almeria and Valencia.
|ON THE SPOT IN SPAIN | LEO VERSUS CRISTIANO
Ronaldo has converted 21 of 22 in La Liga, making him one of the top penalty-takers in the history of the Primera Division. His one blemish - in a game in which he also scored and was sent off - was smashed home by team-mate Karim Benzema anyway in a 4-2 win over Almeria, in his first season at the Santiago Bernabeu.
One of Messi's misses, in the cup against Benidorm, was converted by the Argentine himself at the second attempt. In total, four of his failed spot-kicks have come in the Copa del Rey, with one in the Champions League and two in La Liga.
And those two misses - out of 14 league attempts - mean that the Argentine is outside the top 100 penalty takers in the history of the Spanish league, historically. In fact, his team-mate David Villa has a far superior record, having also erred twice, but netted 31 out of 33 in total.
LIONEL MISSES | LEO'S SEVEN SPOT-KICK SINS
And Messi's misses could be a concern for Barcelona. The Catalan club have continuously complained that they have been awarded too few penalties this term. But when they receive them, they should be putting them away.
The Argentine's Mestalla misdemeanour has handed Valencia a lifeline in Wednesday's return leg at Camp Nou, while failure to beat Javi Varas in the last minute at home to Sevilla earlier on this season saw the Catalans left with a frustrating goalless draw.
Messi, claims coach Pep Guardiola, always plays well, but the Ballon d'Or winner has looked well below his brilliant best in the last few games and, at the moment, Madrid have the edge in La Liga with a seven-point lead over their fiercest rivals.
So Leo may be the finer footballer, but Cristiano is converting from the spot. And penalties bring points, while points mean prizes.
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