His first goal was a nonchalant, outside-of-the-foot finish. His second was pretty much his trademark – fast feet outside the area and then a precise curler into the corner.
Lionel Messi kept up his stellar pre- World Cup form to help rampant Paris Saint-Germain become one of four teams to advance to the last 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday, along with Chelsea, Benfica and Borussia Dortmund.
That’s more than half of the round of 16 lineup confirmed now – five clubs had already gone through – and PSG will be one of the teams its rivals are looking to avoid, especially with Messi in this mood. Kylian Mbappe, too.
At opposite ends of their careers, the two superstar forwards are tasked with guiding the French champions to a first Champions League title and they both scored twice in a 7-2 thrashing of Maccabi Haifa.
Neymar, the other member of the team’s high-profile attacking trident, also scored in a victory that guaranteed PSG a top-two finish alongside Benfica in Group H. Both teams are on 11 points heading into the final round.
Benfica was a 4-3 winner over Juventus, which has failed to reach the knockout stage for the first time since the 2013-14 season.
With perhaps the best goal of the 33 scored in the next-to-last round of group games, Kai Havertz whipped a long-range shot in off the crossbar to earn Chelsea a 2-1 win at Salzburg and a first-place finish in Group E.
It’s the 18th time in 19 group-stage campaigns that Chelsea, a two-time Champions League winner, has advanced. PSG has done so for 11 straight seasons now but has yet to win European soccer’s biggest prize.
Dortmund joined Manchester City in advancing from Group G after drawing 0-0 with the English champions, who are now sure to finish in first place.
Already-qualified Real Madrid, the defending champion, lost 3-2 at Leipzig and must wait to seal top spot on Group F. Leipzig is on the brink of advancing after moving three points clear of Shakhtar Donetsk, which drew 1-1 at Celtic.
Messi is certainly in his best form since joining Qatari-backed PSG and might not be too far from his Barcelona prime, a month before he attempts to win the World Cup for the first time with Argentina.
It’s 11 goals in his last nine games for club and country, and 129 career goals in the Champions League – 11 behind his great rival Cristiano Ronaldo, who isn’t playing in the competition this season at Manchester United.
Messi, who also set up two goals against Maccabi, set PSG on its way with a casual finish with the outside of his left foot from a standing start. Mbappe curled home from a similar position for the second goal and made the decoy run that allowed Messi to play in Neymar for the third goal.
Messi added his second before halftime when he ran toward the area, checked back onto his left foot inside a would-be tackler, and found the bottom corner from 20 meters.
The crowd inside the Parc des Princes was lapping it up and there were further goals from Mbappe, and Carlos Soler, as well as an own-goal, after the break.
PSG conceded two goals from set pieces to blot its performance.
Juventus’ earliest Champions League exit in nearly a decade came a day after the Italian team learned that club president Andrea Agnelli, vice president Pavel Nedved and CEO Maurizio Arrivabene are among 15 people placed under investigation for alleged false accounting and irregularities in player transfers.
One of the few remaining clubs clinging onto the idea of a European Super League, Juventus faces a struggle to return to the Champions League next season after a slow start to Serie A.
They sure couldn’t keep up with Benfica, for whom Antonio Silva, Joao Mario and Rafa Silva scored in a wild first half. Silva added a second after halftime.
Late goals from Arkadiusz Milik and Weston McKennie proved in vain for Juventus, which has lost four of its five group games.
Erling Haaland didn’t enjoy his return to former club Dortmund.
The striker was replaced by Man City manager Pep Guardiola at halftime, perhaps with an eye to future Premier League games and with the team already through to the last 16. Guardiola also said Haaland had been struggling with a fever.
City winger Riyad Mahrez had a penalty saved in the second half – he also failed from the spot against FC Copenhagen two weeks ago – as Dortmund claimed the point it needed to advance.
Sevilla beat Copenhagen 3-0 and will drop into the Europa League qualifiers as a third-place finisher.
While Chelsea is through with a game to spare, AC Milan still has work to do in the group.
The seven-time European champion beat Dinamo Zagreb 4-0 away to jump into second, a point above Salzburg. The teams meet next week and Milan needs to avoid defeat to return to the Champions League’s knockout stage for the first time in nine years.
Matteo Gabbia, Rafael Leao – with a fine solo goal – and a penalty by Olivier Giroud put Milan 3-0 ahead before Dinamo midfielder Robert Ljubicic scored an own-goal.
Real Madrid fielded a weakened team – star striker Karim Benzema and Luka Modric were among those missing – and fell to its first loss of the season in all competitions.
Josko Gvardiol and Christopher Nkunku scored for Leipzig before Vinicius Junior reduced the deficit with an instinctive header.
Substitute Timo Werner restored the two-goal cushion for Leipzig, which conceded again when Rodrygo converted a penalty in stoppage time.
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup