WORLD CUP WATCH: Messi back in supreme form ahead of Qatar

Oct 30, 2022, 7:25 PM | Updated: Oct 31, 2022, 7:28 am
Manchester United's Marcus Rashford celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal during the Eng...

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and West Ham United at Old Trafford stadium in Manchester, England, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

(AP Photo/Jon Super)

              Manchester United's Marcus Rashford celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and West Ham United at Old Trafford stadium in Manchester, England, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

Lionel Messi is back in supreme form, just in time for the World Cup.

With 12 goals in his last 10 games for his club and his country, the Argentina forward is delivering his best run of performances since joining Paris Saint-Germain after an emotional departure from Barcelona in the offseason of 2021.

The stats speak for themselves: Seven goals in the French league, more than he had in his entire first season at PSG; four goals in four games in the Champions League; nine goals in his last three games for Argentina, including all five in a rout of Estonia in June.

His latest — in PSG’s 4-3 win over Troyes on Saturday — was just classic Messi.

Drifting deeper and away from defenders as his teammates passed the ball around, Messi somehow created space for himself outside the penalty area.

Looking over his shoulder before the ball arrived at his feet, he knew he had time to take one touch then nudge it forward before unleashing a fierce, low drive from 25 meters (yards) into the corner. Messi celebrated with a big fist pump.

It’s not just the sheer weight of goals or even assists — he has a competition-high nine in the French league and three more in the Champions League — that is reviving memories of Messi in his Barcelona prime.

It’s the style he is doing it in. And with a smile on his face, too.

Messi is enjoying his soccer again, having recently acknowledged that last season — his first in France — was “bad” while he adapted to a new club after 21 years at Barcelona and all the emotions that came with leaving his home of two decades.

“I arrived with a different mindset,” Messi said in September about his return to PSG ahead of this season, “more adapted to the club, to the locker room, to the game, to my teammates.”

The World Cup certainly focuses the mind. Especially when, as is surely the case with Messi, it’s your last one and it’s the tournament that, to some, could define your legacy.

The 35-year-old Messi is also in a good place with Argentina, the focal point of a well-balanced team assembled by coach Lionel Scaloni that has gone 35 games without defeat. That run takes in a title-winning campaign in last year’s Copa America — Argentina’s first major title in 28 years — and a 3-0 victory over Italy in the Finalissima on June 1.

Messi didn’t score that day against Italy at Wembley Stadium but he ran the game. A few days later, he produced that five-goal showing against Estonia.

It was a sign Messi was back.

RASHFORD’S HOPE

Marcus Rashford hasn’t played for England since last year’s European Championship final against Italy, when he came on as a late substitute and was one of three players to fail to score in a penalty-shootout loss.

Could his next appearance for his country be at the World Cup?

Rashford is making a late run at the squad after regaining his full fitness and confidence under recently hired manager Erik ten Hag at Manchester United, and scoring in his last two games. His most recent goal was the winner against West Ham in the Premier League on Sunday and it came in front of England coach Gareth Southgate, who was at Old Trafford to watch the match.

After the game, Rashford said he has regained his motivation after struggling last season because of off-the-field reasons.

“Too often last season, I wasn’t in the right head space for games,” Rashford said.

Rashford’s bid to get back in the England squad might have been helped by an injury to Bukayo Saka, a competitor for one of the spots on the wing on either side of striker Harry Kane. Saka was forced off with an unspecified injury in the first half of Arsenal’s 5-0 win over Nottingham Forest on Sunday.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said Saka received a “bad kick” but remained hopeful of making the World Cup.

NEUER’S RETURN

Fears that Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer may miss the World Cup with a shoulder injury have been eased by Bayern Munich coach Julian Nagelsmann.

The 35-year-old Neuer hasn’t played in any of Bayern’s last six games and also is set to miss Tuesday’s match against Inter Milan in the Champions League.

However, Nagelsmann said Neuer “had no issues during and after training” on Monday and is hoping to play against Hertha Berlin in the German league on Saturday.

Neuer is Germany’s captain.

___

AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

___

Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Former NFL football quarterback Brett Favre speaks with reporters prior to his induction to ...
Associated Press

Mississippi revises demands on Favre in welfare lawsuit

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi Department of Human Services on Monday changed its demands against retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre in a lawsuit that seeks repayment of misspent welfare money that was intended to help some of the poorest people in the U.S. The department dropped its demand of $1.1 million against Favre, acknowledging […]
1 day ago
Brazil's Neymar smiles during a training session at the Grand Hamad stadium in Doha, Qatar, Sunday,...
Associated Press

Neymar in Brazil’s lineup against South Korea at World Cup

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Neymar is in Brazil’s starting lineup for the match against South Korea in the round of 16 at the World Cup on Monday. The star forward hadn’t played since injuring his right ankle in the team’s group stage opener against Serbia. Coach Tite had said Neymar would play from the start […]
1 day ago
South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston, top, reaches for a rebound against Memphis forward Hannah Rid...
Associated Press

Stanford’s VanDerveer tops women’s AP Top 25 appearances

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer stands atop The Associated Press women’s basketball poll with the most appearances all time, breaking a tie with the late Pat Summitt. VanDerveer’s Cardinal remained No. 2 behind top-ranked South Carolina on Monday, giving her 619 weeks with one of her teams in the AP Top 25: 592 weeks with Stanford […]
1 day ago
North Carolina forward Pete Nance reacts to the team's 103-101 loss to Alabama in four overtimes in...
Associated Press

Preseason No. 1 North Carolina drops out of AP Top 25

Houston and Texas remain firmly entrenched atop The Associated Press men’s college basketball poll, while preseason No. 1 North Carolina has dropped out entirely after a fourth straight loss. The Cougars earned 37 of 62 first-place votes in Monday’s poll, extending the program’s first stay at No. 1 since the “Phi Slama Jama” days in […]
1 day ago
Croatia's goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic saves from Japan's Maya Yoshida during a penalty shootout at...
Associated Press

Croatia going deep again at World Cup after shootout win

AL WAKRAH, Qatar (AP) — Croatia is going deep at another World Cup, and the team is taking the long route once again. Goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic saved three penalty kicks Monday in Croatia’s 3-1 win over Japan in a shootout, securing a return to the quarterfinals for the runner-up in the 2018 tournament. On its […]
1 day ago
FILE - Carolina Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) walks off the field after his teams loss to...
Associated Press

Panthers waive struggling QB Mayfield, a former No. 1 pick

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The short-lived Baker Mayfield era is over in Carolina. The Panthers waived the struggling quarterback on Monday after the 2018 No. 1 draft pick asked for his release. Mayfield would be subject to waivers and become a free agent if he goes unclaimed. The move does not come as a surprise, […]
1 day ago
WORLD CUP WATCH: Messi back in supreme form ahead of Qatar