Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and their teammates prepared for a strenuous nine days of soccer in style this past Saturday as both players reached a record 41 goals in a Spanish League season.

Ronaldo reached the milestone first because Real played first, registering a header goal in the 74th minute in his team's 3-1 La Liga triumph over Sporting Gijón. After the visitors scored first, Argentine Gonzalo Higuaín equalized before the Portuguese superstar connected for the game-winner and Karim Benzema added an insurance tally in the 82nd minute. Real also equalized its Spanish record of 107 goals in a season, set in 1990.

Two hours later it was Messi's turn as the Argentine superstar tallied twice. He struck for a brace, including a penalty kick in the 72nd minute to lift Barca to a 2-1 victory over Levante. Marvelous Messi has scored in 10 consecutive games, equaling the club record for goals in successive matches, set by Mariano Martin and Brazilian legend Ronaldo. Those goals also gave Messi 63 goals in all competitions, trailing only former Bayern Munich great Gerd Mueller's 67 scores (n 1972-73).

Lost in the Messi milestones were a couple of other interesting facts. Andés Iniesta, who struck for the game-winning goal for Spain in its 1-0 victory over the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup final, played in his 400th match for the team. Pep Guardiola has won 50 La Liga away matches in charge of Barcelona.

It certainly will be one memorable and pressure-filled week for both clubs.

On Tuesday, Real plays at Bayern Munich in the first leg of a UEFA Champions League semifinal match.

On Wednesday, Barca visits Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in London, England in a first leg semifinal.

And finally on Saturday, the two archrivals meet in the biggest derby in the world in Barcelona. Real, which has led by as many as 10 points recently, brings a four-point advantage into the encounter with only five games remaining.

"Five finals remain and we must win them come what may," Higuaín said. "The league title is at stake and we must remain calm to win every game. That's all we think about."

England

Juan Mata

The Spaniard scored a controversial goal to give Chelsea a 2-0 lead en route to a 5-1 win over London-rival Tottenham in the English F.A. Cup semifinals. The incident, which restarted the debate over goal-line technology, came in the 49th minute. Mata was awarded a goal that did not appear to cross the goal line, according to replays, as it was cleared away by defender Benoit Assou-Ekotto. "That second goal was a disaster," Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp said. "It was an honest mistake but when you look at it, it was nowhere near over the line."

England

Carlos Tévez, Sergio Aguero

Just imagine what sort of season Manchester City would have experienced had Argentine standout had not refused to go in as a substitute last October. He eventually was suspended. Tévez hit for a hat-trick in City's 6-1 romp over Norwich City. Aguero, another Argentine international, had a brace. Tévez started the rout, converting a long-range attempt past goalkeeper John Ruddy in the 18th minute. He set up Aguero's goal in the 27th minute with a back heel pass for the striker's 27th goal this season. After the hosts cut the lead in the half, Tévez restored the two-goal margin in the 73rd minute and Aguero scored off a marvelous solo effort only two minutes later. Tévez tallied No. 3 in the 80th minute.

Javier Hernández

Chicharito again was a victim of Manchester United's success. The Mexican international striker started and finished United's 4-0 win over Aston Villa on the bench as ManU did not need his scoring prowess. England striker Wayne Rooney led the way with a brace as United restored its English Premier League lead to five points over Manchester City.

Spain

Radamel Falcao

The Colombian connected for his 30th goal in all competitions to boost Atletico Madrid a 1-0 victory at Rayo Vallecano. Falcao tallied in the 64th minute. He ran onto Juanfran Torres' long pass, dribbled past goalkeeper David Cobeno and placed the ball into the open net for his 22nd La Liga goal this season. "I am happy with my good form because it has contributed to the team's win," Falcao was quoted by Associated Press. "It's a great triumph against a rival that is tough to beat on its home ground."

Andrés Guardado

The Mexican international helped create two goals for Deportivo de la Coruna in its dramatic 3-2 Second Division victory over host R.C. Celta in the Galacian derby. The win virtually secured a promotion from the Second to First Division in La Liga for the winners. There was little question the atmosphere was intense at Celta as the match was stopped by the referee for several minutes in the first half after a fan threw a lighter and a bottle just as Guardado was going to attempt a corner kick. 

After Deportivo secured a 1-0 lead, Guardado enjoyed a strong second half. He forced Celta goalkeeper Yoel to clear a shot in the 47th minute and a header six minutes later. Guardado and his teammates finally hit paydirt in the 61st minute. After Deportivo's backline cleared the ball, Guardado fired a shot between pair of defenders into the path of Lassad, who beat Yoel at the left post for a two-goal advantage. 

But Celta refused to wilt as goals from De Lucas (68th minute) and Catala (82nd minute) equalized the match at 2-2. A minute into stoppage time, Lassad was fouled at the edge of the penalty area. Guardado's ensuing free kick went to the far post. Colotto headed the ball, which hit the crossbar. Yoel leaped for the ball, but fell to the ground. Borja Fernández headed the ball home for his second goal of the season.

José Salomón Rondón

The Venezuelan was stopped not once, but twice by Real Sociedad goalkeeper Claudio Bravo in a 1-1 tie with Malaga. Bravo deflected Rondón's attempt into the post and stopped him from point-blank range in the 87th minute.

Germany

Jefferson Farfán

The Peruvian striker scored Schalke lone goal in its 2-1 loss at defending champion Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga. Farfán launched a shot from the edge of the penalty area, a shot that deflected off Sinji Kagawa in the ninth minute before Dortmund rallied.

Juan Arango

The Venezuelan striker scored the first goal for Borussia Moenchengladbach, which moved a step closer to the UEFA Champions League thanks to a 3-0 victory over visiting Cologne. Gladbach is in fourth place, seven points ahead of fifth-place VfB Stuttgart with three games remaining.

France

Joel Campbell

Campbell, a Costa Rican international, scored what proved to be the deciding goal for Lorient in its 2-1 triumph over Montpellier in French Ligue 1. Lorient, which has registered two wins in its past 17 league matches, is two points clear of the relegation zone. Campbell, on loan from Arsenal (EPL), gave the hosts a two-goal lead in the 77th minute. He cut in from the right side and fired home a left-footed shot inside the left post.

Guillermo Ochoa

The less said about AC Ajaccio's 4-1 loss at LOSC Lille Metropole, the better. The hosts scored twice in each half against Mexican international goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa in the French Ligue 1 match. By the time Frederic Sammaritano had tallied for the visitors in the third minute of second-half stoppage time, Lille enjoyed a four-goal advantage. Ajaccio's Yoann Poulard started things off on the worst of all ways, scoring an own goal in the 16th minute. Lille found the back of the net through a more conventional method behind Joe Cole in the 37th minute. Gianni Bruno and Eden Hazard (penalty kick) struck within a six-minute period late in the match in the 81st and 87th minutes, respectively.

The Netherlands

Renato Ibarra

Ibarra, an Ecuadorean international, registered the lone goal in Vitesse Arnhem's 1-0 victory over ADO The Hague.

Italy

In the wake of Liverno midfielder Piermario Morosini dying from a heart attack at Pescara in a Serie B match on Saturday, all Italian League matches were called off, so none of the leading South American players played.

Paraguay

Salvador Cabañas

The former Paraguayan international and Club America standout played in his first pro game in more than two years in 12 de Octubre's 2-0 win over Martín Ledesma as he enjoyed a successful recovered after being shot in the head in Mexico City in January 2010. Cabañas, 31, who still has a bullet in his brain, was replaced in the 40th minute in the Primera Metropolitana game, the Third Division in Paraguay. He was part of his team's attack on several occasions and won two aerial battles to help dispel fears that he was limited in the air. Cabañas started his career at 12 de Octubre.

Mexico

Ricardo Osorio

Scratch the two-time Mexican World Cup defender from the Monterrey lineup for both legs of the CONCACAF Champions League final. Osorio suffered a second-degree right ankle sprain in a Mexican Clausura game against Tigres last week and will be sidelined for four weeks. The Rayados will try to defend their CCL crown beginning on Wednesday, when they host Santos Laguna (Mexico) in the first leg of the final. The two teams will meet in the second leg in Torreon on Wednesday, April 25.

United States

Rafa Márquez

Even though he was not carded by referee Ricardo Salazar, the captain of the Mexican National Team could face sanctions from the Major League Soccer disciplinary committee. During a San José Earthquakes corner kick in a 2-2 draw at the New York Red Bulls, Márquez grabbed midfielder Shea Salinas and tackled him as though he was playing gridiron football. In the process, Márquez also kicked Salinas in the shoulder as the San Jose player suffered a broken collarbone and was forced from the game.

Pavel Pardo

In a 1-1 game shortened to 66 minutes due to lightning and rain, the former Mexican international set up the Chicago Fire's lone goal in a 1-1 home draw with the Houston Dynamo. After Will Bruin scored for the visitors in the 24th minute, three minutes later Pardo fired a free kick into the Houston defensive wall. It bounced off Fire captain Logan Pause and the underside of the crossbar before entering the net.

Blas Pérez

Perez, a Panamanian international, scored the equalizer and set up the game-winning goal to lift host FC Dallas to a 2-1 comeback win over the Montreal Impact. Montreal has taken a 1-0 lead in the 61st minute on a penalty kick converted by Bernardo Corradi. Pérez then headed home an equalizer in the 77th minute for his third goal this season before setting up Brek Shea for the winner in the 88th minute.

“You can imagine what it would have been like for us to have had him on the team last year,” Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman said. “We worked awfully hard trying to get him. Finally, it worked out and he just got his third goal. What you see is a really talented player, getting good balls. He gave that ball for Castillo to go through, the one that he missed. He holds the ball very well. Usually when you’re the lone striker, you’ve got two people on top of you. He’s strong in the air. He has an unbelievable work ethic. You put all of these qualities together. He’s a pretty special player.”

Gabriel Gómez

The Panamanian converted a penalty kick in the 38th minute to lift the Philadelphia Union to a 1-0 victory over the Columbus Crew, its first win this season. Freddy Adu made a run down the left side, cut toward the penalty area and sent a right-footed cross into the box. The ball hit the left arm of defender Eric Gehrig, resulting in the penalty kick. Gómez chipped the ball over goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum, who dived to his right. “You have to have courage to chip it that way,” Union manager Peter Nowak told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

José Moreno

Moreno, a Colombian striker, scored in the sixth minute to lift the New England Revolution into the lead in the sixth minute for his first MLS goal before D.C. United rallied to register a 2-1 road victory.

Harrison Henao

The Colombian midfielder was loaned from Once Caldas (Colombia) to the Colorado Rapids. He is expected to join the team in the next week.

Oscar Recio

The Houston Dynamo acquired the 22-year-old Mexican left fullback on loan from Monterrey. Recio joined the Dynamo at the beginning of pre-season and has seen significant minutes in pre-season and MLS reserve matches.

Michael Lewis, who has covered international soccer for more than three decades, can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com.

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Michael Lewis, who is the editor of BigAppleSoccer.com and soccer correspondent for Newsday, will be covering his eighth World Cup in Brazil.

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