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Messi stunner helps PSG edge closer to title glory

China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-04-17 09:58
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Lionel Messi celebrates after netting Paris Saint-Germain's third goal in a 3-1 win at home to Lens on Saturday. AFP

PARIS — A brilliant Lionel Messi goal helped Paris Saint-Germain to a 3-1 home win over Lens on Saturday to surely end any doubt about the outcome of this season's Ligue 1 title race, after an early sending-off left the visitor with a mountain to climb.

Lens, who began the day six points behind league leader PSG in second place, looked the better team until Ghana midfielder Salis Abdul Samed was dismissed for a dangerous challenge on Achraf Hakimi in the 19th minute.

That changed everything, and by halftime the host was out of sight thanks to three goals in the space of 10 minutes from Kylian Mbappe, Vitinha and then Messi, with Przemyslaw Frankowski pulling one back for Lens from a penalty.

Mbappe opened the scoring and Vitinha's long-ranger doubled PSG's lead in the 37th minute.

Both goals were good but Messi's strike to make it 3-0 was stunning. The Argentine found a pocket out of space outside the area, fed a pass to Mbappe and then received the France striker's backheel return before slotting beyond Lens goalkeeper Brice Samba and into the far corner.

The result left the reigning champion nine points ahead with seven games remaining, meaning it is surely just a matter of time until PSG secures a French record 11th league title.

"We must not think that it's done and dusted," said coach Christophe Galtier.

"We will need to remain serious and determined to maintain our lead and not give any hope to the teams chasing us."

The win comes at the end of a week overshadowed by allegations of racism against Galtier, who had already been under pressure since PSG's elimination from the Champions League last month.

Galtier said on Friday that he was "deeply shocked" by accusations that he made racist and Islamophobic remarks about Nice players when he was in charge there last season.

The allegations surfaced in an email apparently sent by former Nice sporting director Julien Fournier and which have been reported by various French media. AFP has not been able to verify the message.

The affair looks set to hang over the coach and the club in the coming weeks.

"I was very determined and focused on the match, like my players," Galtier said of trying to stay concentrated on the game.

"It was obviously an important match, if not decisive, and so it was important to get the result and enjoy it."

Mbappe on target

Lens was hoping to take advantage of the leader's problems and extend a four-match winning run that had got the northern club's supporters dreaming of a first league title since 1998.

It triumphed 3-1 when the teams last met in Lens on Jan 1 and it started the better of the two sides at Parc des Princes.

Yet Lens' enterprising opening did not yield a goal and the team was severely hamstrung when Abdul Samed saw red for catching Hakimi with his studs.

It was then torn apart with Mbappe firing home on the turn from Vitinha's pass for his 20th league goal this season.

Vitinha then smashed in his first goal in a PSG shirt before Messi took center stage.

The Argentine's 20th club goal of the campaign was also arguably his finest in two years in a PSG shirt, just as he comes toward what may be the end of his time in France.

Lens regrouped in the second half and pulled a goal back when Frankowski converted from the spot after a Fabian Ruiz handball.

Lois Openda remained a menace up front for Lens but it was left with too much to do and will now focus on trying to hold onto a place in the top three and Champions League qualification.

"I would have liked us to close the gap tonight but even had we done that it would have been very difficult," admitted Lens manager Franck Haise.

"Of course the title is for Paris. There is not much doubt about that."


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