Messi stars, PSG among 4 teams progressing in Champions League

By STEVE DOUGLAS

His first goal was a nonchalant finish on the outside of the foot. His second was pretty much his trademark – quick feet on the outside of the zone, then an accurate curler in the corner.

Lionel Messi maintained his brilliant pre- world Cup form to help creeping Paris Saint-Germain become one of four teams to qualify for the Champions League knockout stages on Tuesday, along with Chelsea, Benfica and Borussia Dortmund.

That’s more than half of the confirmed Round of 16 line-up now – five clubs had already passed – and PSG will be one of the teams their rivals will look to avoid, especially with Messi in that mood. Kylian Mbappé too.

At opposite ends of their careers, the two superstar forwards are tasked with guiding the French champions to a maiden Champions League title and they both scored twice in a 7-2 thrashing at Maccabi Haifa.

Neymar, the other member of the team’s top attacking trident, also scored in a victory that secured PSG a top-two spot alongside Benfica in Group H. Both sides have 11 points before the final round.

Benfica were 4-3 winners against Juventus, who failed to reach the knockout stage for the first time since the 2013-14 season.

With perhaps the best goal of 33 scored in the penultimate round of group play, Kai Havertz fired a long-range shot over the crossbar to earn Chelsea a 2-1 victory at Salzburg and a first place in Group E

It is the 18th time in 19 group stage campaigns that two-time Champions League winners Chelsea have qualified. PSG have done it for 11 consecutive seasons now but are yet to win European football’s biggest prize.

Dortmund joined Manchester City in Group G after drawing 0-0 with the English champions, who are now sure to finish in first place.

Already qualified, holders Real Madrid lost 3-2 at Leipzig and must wait to seal top spot in Group F. Leipzig are poised to advance after trailing Shakhtar Donetsk by three points. drew 1-1 at Celtic. .

MAGIC MESSI

Messi is certainly in his best form since joining Qatar-backed PSG and may not be too far from his peak at Barcelona, ​​a month before he bids to win the World Cup for the first time with Argentina.

That’s 11 goals in his last nine games for club and country, and 129 career Champions League goals – 11 behind arch-rival Cristiano Ronaldo, who is not playing in the competition this season at Manchester United.

Messi, who also scored twice against Maccabi, put PSG on their way with a relaxed finish with the outside of his left foot from a standing start. Mbappe came home from a similar position for the second goal and made the decoy run that saw Messi play Neymar for the third goal.

Messi added his second before half-time when he ran towards the area, checked his left foot inside a potential tackler and found the bottom corner 20 yards out.

The crowd inside the Parc des Princes took advantage and there were more goals from Mbappe and Carlos Soler, as well as an own goal, after the break.

PSG conceded two goals from set pieces to tarnish their performance.

JUVE TORMENTED

Juventus’ first Champions League exit in nearly a decade came a day after the Italian side learned that club president Andrea Agnelli, vice-president Pavel Nedved and CEO Maurizio Arrivabene were among the 15 people under investigation for false accounting and irregularities in player transfers.

One of the few remaining clubs clinging to the idea of ​​a European Super League, Juventus are struggling to return to the Champions League next season after a slow start in Serie A.

They certainly couldn’t keep up with Benfica, for whom António Silva, João Mário and Rafa Silva scored in a crazy first half. Silva added a second after halftime.

Late goals from Arkadiusz Milik and Weston McKennie proved futile for Juventus, who lost four of their five group games.

THE RETURN OF HAALAND

Erling Haaland did not appreciate his return to former club Dortmund.

The striker was replaced by Man City manager Pep Guardiola at half-time, possibly with a view to future Premier League matches and with the team already through to the last 16. Guardiola also said that Haaland was suffering from a fever.

City winger Riyad Mahrez was handed a second-half penalty – he also failed against FC Copenhagen two weeks ago – as Dortmund claimed the point they needed to advance.

Sevilla beat Copenhagen 3-0 and will enter the Europa League qualifiers in third place.

MILAN’S LUCK

While Chelsea are done with one game to lose, AC Milan still have their work cut out for them in the squad.

The seven-time European champions beat Dinamo Zagreb 4-0 away to take second place, one point ahead of Salzburg. The teams meet next week and Milan must avoid defeat to return to the Champions League knockout stage for the first time in nine years.

Matteo Gabbia, Rafael Leão – with a fine solo goal – and an Olivier Giroud penalty put Milan ahead 3-0 before Dinamo midfielder Robert Ljubičić netted an own goal.

MADRID LOSES

Real Madrid fielded a weakened squad – star striker Karim Benzema and Luka Modric were among the absentees – and suffered their first defeat of the season in all competitions.

Josko Gvardiol and Christopher Nkunku scored for Leipzig before Vinícius Júnior reduced the deficit with an instinctive header.

Substitute Timo Werner restored the two-goal cushion for Leipzig, who again conceded when Rodrygo converted a stoppage-time penalty.

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


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