Lionel Messi scored in his first game since leading Argentina to the World Cup title as French league leader Paris Saint-Germain beat Angers 2-0 on Wednesday. (More Football News)
Nearly four weeks after the final against France in Qatar, Messi needed only five minutes to make an impact. He turned neatly near the penalty area and threaded a pass to right back Nordi Mukiele, whose cross was turned in by 20-year-old forward Hugo Ekitiké.
Messi then started the move that led to his 72nd-minute goal, with Ekitiké and Mukiele combining quickly to put him through before he side-footed home. His eighth league goal this season was initially disallowed for offside but then awarded following a video review.
It was otherwise a poor performance overall from PSG against a team in last place, but the Parisian club moved six points clear at the top after second-place Lens drew 2-2 at 19th-place Strasbourg.
Messi was given a warm ovation by the crowd at Parc des Princes, who chanted his name when he applauded them back.
He scored twice against France in a wild 3-3 draw on Dec. 18 and converted his penalty in the shootout. Messi and PSG teammate Kylian Mbappé , who scored a hat trick in the final, are front-runners to win the next men’s Ballon d’Or award.
With Mbappé rested, Messi started in attack with Neymar and Ekitiké. But PSG was asleep for stretches of the game and Angers had two good chances before Messi’s goal.
PSG’s players warmed up wearing T-shirts with Pelé’s face on. The Brazilian great who won a record three World Cups, died in late December at the age of 82.
In Strasbourg, forward Alexis Claude-Maurice gave Lens an 11th-minute lead but five minutes later Strasbourg led after goals from midfielder Sanjin Prcic and veteran striker Kevin Gameiro. Belgian forward Loïs Openda equalized for Lens.
Elsewhere, third-place Marseille moved within two points of Lens after winning 2-0 at Troyes.
Central defender Chancel Mbemba put Marseille ahead in the 10th after France midfielder Mattéo Guendouzi headed on a cross. Guendouzi’s France teammate Jordan Veretout made it 2-0 just after the break from Cengiz Ünder’s pass.
Fourth-place Rennes fell five points behind Marseille after losing 2-1 at Clermont, which won thanks to a goal five minutes into stoppage time from midfielder Johan Gastien. Rennes had two players sent off late on.
Rennes is level on points with fifth-place Monaco, which needed a stoppage-time equalizer from top scorer Wissam Ben Yedder to draw 2-2 at sixth-place Lorient. Nigeria striker Terem Moffi grabbed his 11th goal for Lorient, moving him level with PSG’s Neymar and two behind scoring leader Mbappé.
Lyon coach Laurent Blanc described Nantes manager Antoine Kombouaré as “more than a close friend” before the game. Their teams drew 0-0, as did Brest and seventh-placed Lille.
Toulouse had five different scores in a 5-0 win at lowly Auxerre.
Reims won 1-0 at Ajaccio to make it 10 league games unbeaten and Nice routed Montpellier 6-1.
Midfielder Képhren Thuram — the son of former France defender Lilian Thuram — dribbled past several players before setting up winger Nicolas Pépé in the 15th. Thuram doubled Nice’s lead in the 34th with a powerful shot.
Former Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey set up a second goal for Pépé — who is on loan from Arsenal — in the 56th. Striker Andy Delort added another for Nice before midfielder Téji Savanier pulled one back for the visitors with a fine free kick.
Former Chelsea and England midfielder Ross Barkley then scored twice inside two minutes to make it 6-1.