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WATCH WORLD CUP: Messi back in top form ahead of Qatar | WGN 720 Radio

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

Having scored 12 goals in his last 10 games for club and country, the Argentine forward is enjoying his best run of performances since joining Paris Saint-Germain following an emotional exit from Barcelona in the 2021 off-season.

The stats speak for themselves: seven goals in the French championship, more than he scored in his entire first season at PSG; four goals in four Champions League games; nine goals in Argentina’s last three games, including all five in June’s thrashing of Estonia.

His last – in PSG’s 4-3 win over Troyes on Saturday – was simply classic Messi.

By swimming deeper and further away from defenders as his teammates passed the ball, Messi somehow created space for himself outside the box.

Glancing over his shoulder before the ball was at his feet, he knew he had time to take one touch and then push it forward before unleashing a fierce low shot from 25 meters (yards) into the corner. Messi celebrated it with a big fist.

It’s not just the sheer weight of goals and even assists – he has a record nine in Ligue 1 and another three in the Champions League – that brings back memories of Messi in his prime at Barcelona.

This is the style in which he does it. And also with a smile on his face.

Messi is enjoying football again, recently admitting that last season – his first in France – was “bad” as he adapts to a new club after 21 years at Barcelona and all the emotions that have come since he left his home for two decades.

“I came with a different mindset,” Messi said in September of his return to PSG ahead of this season, “more adapted to the club, to the dressing 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 tournament, and it’s one that, for some, could define your legacy.

Messi, 35, is also in good stead with Argentina, the centerpiece of a well-balanced squad assembled by coach Lionel Scaloni that has gone 35 games unbeaten. That streak includes a title-winning campaign at last year’s Copa America – Argentina’s first major title in 28 years – and a 3-0 win over Italy in the final on June 1.

Messi didn’t score that day against Italy at Wembley Stadium, but he dominated the game. A few days later, he scored five goals against Estonia.

It was a sign that Messi was back.

RUSHFORD’S HOPE

Marcus Rashford has not 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 not to score in the penalty shootout.

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

Rashford makes a late addition to the squad after regaining his full fitness and confidence under newly hired manager Erik ten Haag at Manchester United and scoring in the last two games. His latest goal was the winner against West Ham in the Premier League on Sunday and was scored in front of England manager Gareth Southgate, who was at Old Trafford to watch the match.

After the game, Rashford said he had regained his motivation after struggling last season for off-field reasons.

“Too often last season I was in the wrong place for games,” said Rashford.

Rashford’s bid to return to the England squad could be helped by an injury to Bukayo Sakho, a rival for one of the wing spots either side of striker Harry Kane. Sakho was forced off with an undisclosed injury in the first half of Arsenal’s 5-0 win over Nottingham Forest on Sunday.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said Sakho suffered a “bad knock” but remained hopeful of making the World Cup.

THE RETURN OF NOYER

Bayern Munich coach Julian Nagelsmann has allayed fears that Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer could miss the World Cup with a shoulder injury.

Neuer, 35, has not played in any of Bayern’s last six games and is also set to miss Tuesday’s Champions League clash with Inter Milan.

However, Nagelsmann said Neuer had “no problems during and after training” on Monday and hopes to play against Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga on Saturday.

Neuer is the captain of the German national team.

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

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

https://wgnradio.com/sports/ap-world-cup-watch-messi-back-in-supreme-form-ahead-of-qatar/

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