Soccer’s Version of Deep Blue vs Kasparov

Here’s Barcelona and Argentina legend Lionel Messi taking on a robot goalkeeper on a Japanese gameshow. He either shoots wide, hits the uprights or is denied in his first few attempts, but (and go ahead and scroll to roughly the 6:00 mark) after several shots he learns two ways to beat the evil machine.

The first is a world-class combination of pure power and deadly accuracy, as Messi blasts the ball to the upper left corner, where Robokeeper—as the infernal device is known—gets a “hand” on it, but cannot keep it out of the net.

The second is a more reliable and brilliant misdirection, as Messi sells the machine on a shot to the left corner but then rocks his attempt into the right corner. The split screen display shows this pretty vividly. Take a look:

For the record, Garry Kasparov defeated Deep Blue 4-2 in their first meeting. In the rematch a year and a half later, after the machine’s engineering had been altered by its legions of programmers, Deep Blue prevailed 3 1/2 to 2 1/2.

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Brazil and Argentina Fill, Thoroughly Entertain, MetLife Stadium

Bruce Springsteen himself never rocked New Jersey so hard: South American giants Brazil and Argentina squared off in front of 81,994 fans at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford on Saturday and gave the fans an afternoon to remember.

Lionel Messi scored three goals—including a sensational 22-yard winner in the 84th minute—to lead the Albicelestes to a wild 4-3 victory, and make Pelé’s recent comments about Neymar—who was involved in two of Brazil’s goals—being better than Messi seem even more wishful than when they were first uttered.

Here is the hat-trick:

What a performance, and what a crowd. “He’s the best player in the world,” Brazil coach Mano Menezes told reporters afterward. “He received four balls and scored three goals.”

As for the New York–area crowd, they turned out in those numbers on a day when the third leg of the Triple Crown was being run at the Belmont, the Yankees were playing the Mets, the New Jersey Devils were fighting for their Stanley Cup lives (successfully, it turned out) against the LA Kings, and there were Euro 2012 games on TV, along with an NBA playoff Game 7.

Backpost Excursion: Argentina Training at Red Bull Arena

The Backpost AV Team went out to Red Bull Arena last night to watch Argentina train ahead of their Clash-of-the-Titans friendly with Brazil tomorrow, and, well, any concerns we had about spending $48 (the Son of Backpost was in tow) to watch a practice session were immediately dispelled when we caught sight, from the fifth row, of Lionel Messi, Angel DiMaria, Sergio (Kun) Aguero , Javier Mascherano and the rest of the Albicelestes pinging the ball around in tight spaces like magicians.

It was well worth it, and thousands of others agreed. Here’s a completely professional, ESPN-worthy* pan of the crowd, where you can see that the lower bowl of RBA is just about full, which would put the attendance close to 10,000 (capacity is 25k):

When we arrived they were playing 11 v 11 in less than half the field—one goal moved to midfield, pitch narrowed to the width of the 18-yard box—and the display was awesome. Mistake-free, one- and two-touch passing, rarefied skill level. Here’s a sample:

A few observations from the session:

• Leo Messi’s first touch is made of rich, creamery butter. No matter what kind of pressure he’s under—and in an 11 v 11 drill in a compressed field, you’re constantly under pressure—his first touch leaves the ball right where he needs it.

• Angel Di Maria looks slight on television, but in person he’s got some starch, and he can absolutely thump the ball. He rocked the post with a shot during the 11 v 11 and later, in a shooting drill, sent one whistling past our ears in the stands. It was wobbling and shifting in the air as it went past.

• As much as we hate to admit it, we wondered how the U.S. national team would have looked running the same exercise. Probably … not quite the same.

They wrapped up the practice with some shooting. Click here to see Messi, at the 24-second mark, bending one into the side netting:

*This statement has not been fact-checked.

Lionel Messi: Human Gyroscope

Thanks for the feedback on the inaugural, beta edition of Tracking Back, our podcast spinoff. We’re going to produce it every other week for the time being, and if all goes well and schedules allow, we’ll move to a weekly podcast.

One item we discussed in last week’s debut was the great Leo Messi and how he never dives. It’s true, and as we said on Tracking Back, it’s not just on principle that he always tries to stay on his feet after getting kicked, grabbed, hacked and hip-checked by defenders. He does it because his low center of gravity gives him superior balance and enables him to zip past, around and sometimes through opponents’ wild lunges.

Behold:

The game may be overpopulated by divers, floppers, and fakers, but Messi is not one of them. And if you had any lingering doubts that he is the best player on the planet, well, it’s hard to argue against the evidence on display above.