Lionel Messi rescues PSG from brink of crisis with magical 95th-minute winner

Paris Saint-Germain’s Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring his side’s fourth goal during a French League match against Lille at the Parc des Princes stadium, in Paris, France, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

With 10 minutes remaining in the wildest game of the 2022-23 Ligue 1 season, PSG was spiraling into a multi-pronged crisis. Neymar had exited on a stretcher, and a 2-0 lead had evaporated into a 3-2 deficit, and, with Champions League dreams already waning, the Parisian superclub’s grip on its domestic league was suddenly loosening too.

Then up stepped Kylian Mbappé and Lionel Messi.

Almost exactly two months after they dueled in an unforgettable World Cup final, they conspired to rescue PSG and halt the spiral. Mbappé’s sliding finish leveled the match at 3-3 with three minutes of the 90 remaining. Then, deep into stoppage time, Messi won a free kick, and stood over it, and …

He stood alone, literally and figuratively, a never-paralleled talent with the result of yet another game at his feet.

He saw Lille goalkeeper Lucas Chevalier cheating toward the center of his goal, anticipating a deft dink over the wall.

So Messi picked out a sliver of space between Chevalier’s reach and his left-hand post. The 35-year-old Argentine magician pinged his free kick in off that post, and liberated the Parc des Princes from the gloom that had engulfed it.

At 3-2, moments before Mbappé’s equalizer, even on a delightfully sunny afternoon in Paris, dark clouds loomed. PSG sporting director Luis Campos had left his seat in the stands and ventured down to the pitch. French television reporters even speculated about who PSG’s next manager would be — the assumption being that the club would fire its current one, Christophe Galtier. Its 5-point lead atop a league it expects to win in second-gear was rapidly narrowing.

And its true ambitions, already wounded by a first-leg loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League’s Round of 16, were potentially further harmed by an injury to Neymar. After a goal and assist on Sunday, the Brazilian star was carried off on a stretcher shortly after halftime with what appeared to be an ankle injury. (The second leg against Bayern, in Munich, is March 8.)

But Mbappé, and then Messi, replaced that sense of impending doom with elation. Perhaps it will be fleeting. Or, perhaps Sunday will be a turning point.

“En el fútbol,” the commentator on BeIN Sports’ Spanish language broadcast raved, “todo es posible cuando en la cancha está el mejor del mundo.”

“In soccer, anything is possible when the best in the world is on the field.”



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