Messi returns to fitness and form before World Cup

A collective sigh of relief is ringing round Argentina tonight and nowhere is it likely to be as loud as in Lionel Scaloni’s house.

Lionel Messi’s performance in Paris Saint-Germain’s 3-0 Ligue 1 victory over Ajaccio will have left La Albiceleste head coach rubbing his hands with glee and has further allayed any fears of an injury keeping the ex-Barcelona superstar out of a final World Cup appearance. Messi grabbed two assists, both for Kylian Mbappé, and scored once to make it eight goals and eight assists in 14 matches in all competitions so far this term.

When Messi was forced off in the Champions League game away to Benfica at the start of the month, PSG boss Christophe Galtier put it down to muscle fatigue. Days later, a scan revealed that the Argentina captain had, in fact, suffered a muscle contraction in his calf. Admittedly, not normally a serious injury but the World Cup was just over a month away…

And not just any World Cup – Messi’s last World Cup. “This will be my last World Cup, for sure. The decision has been made. I’m counting down the days until the World Cup. On the one hand, I can’t wait for it to arrive but I’m also really desperate for it to go well,” he told Argentinian television.

After missing a league game versus Reims and the reverse European fixture against Benfica, Messi returned to the PSG side for Le Classique against Marseille, playing for 79 minutes before being replaced, with no sign of having aggravated the injury. But it is Friday night’s performance that will have set Argentinian – and other – pulses racing. Not only is the forward 90 minutes closer to being ready for his final appearance on the greatest international stage of all, but he appeared to be in razor-sharp form alongside new sidekick Kylian Mbappé.

Irresistible eye-of-the-needle passing led to two assists for Mbappé, who returned the favour after some sumptuous link-up play, with Messi’s cool-as-you-like second-half finish showing that his heavy-handed attempt to chip Ajaccio keeper Benjamin Leroy earlier in the game was just a bit of rustiness. Even by the Rosario native’s impossibly high standards, this was impressive stuff.

And that Galtier left his star playmaker on for the full 90 minutes can only be read as another sign that he is fit and healthy.

In another interview this week, Messi named Brazil and France as his two big favourites to win the World Cup, not mentioning his own nation when discussing possible contenders. But there is no doubt that he will have high hopes of lifting the one trophy that has continuously eluded him, which would further cement his legacy.

And it has not gone unnoticed that Messi has currently played 988 competitive matches in his career, which means that, were he to feature in five of PSG’s six matches before the tournament (he could feasibly be rested for one), and were Argentina to progress to the final, the World Cup showpiece would be his 1000th match in senior football.

Maybe some things are just meant to be?

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